A recent terrorist attack in Kashmir could set the stage for a major conflict between India and Pakistan as India begins bombing Pakistani territory. As always, the root causes of these are being ignored by the media.
On February 14, India was rocked by a suicide-bombing which took place inside Jammu and Kashmir. The attack targeted a convoy of security personnel vehicles, killing at least 42 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officers (as well as the bomber himself).
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a Pakistan-based Islamist group called Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). JeM’s main goal is to steal Kashmir away from India and unite it with Pakistan, to ensure that Pakistan is ruled by Sharia law, and to drive Western forces out of Afghanistan. Its other eventual priority is to drive all Hindus and non-Muslims from the Indian subcontinent.
The attack has drawn such negative publicity that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), finally agreeing on something for once, identified India as a victim of terrorism and asked member states to cooperate actively with New Delhi to bring these attackers to justice.
After India vowed a “jaw breaking response” to the attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan authorised his military to “respond decisively and comprehensively to any aggression or misadventure” by India. In case it wasn’t clear, both of these volatile states currently sitting on the cusp of war possess nuclear weapons.
Apparently, despite this underlying nuclear catastrophe, someone thought it was a good idea for Indian fighter jets to begin pounding Pakistani territory just today, in order to take part in what India’s foreign ministry coined a “non-military pre-emptive action” against JeM. The recent incursion into Pakistani airspace forced the Pakistani air force to scramble to respond, which in turn led the Indian jets to “release [their] payload in haste while escaping.”
In the process, India claimed that it had killed a “very large number” of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and jihadis. To be fair, India, for its part, had warned it was ready for war with Pakistan. It was also pushing for Pakistan to be included on a terror-watch blacklist, all the while threatening to weaponize the flow of water to Pakistan as a means of leverage conventional military means can’t buy.
After the raid, Pakistan has understandably asserted its right to self-defense. But self-defense of what – Pakistan’s sovereignty or self-defense of JeM? (If in fact, India was targeting JeM fighters). Actually, that was exactly what the Indian foreign ministry claimed was the rationale for the attacks – Pakistan’s inaction for combating its own homegrown terrorists. And this is where international law can get even murkier as it delves into the “unwilling and unable” justification for the use of force on a sovereign state. In India’s eyes, Islamabad is either unwilling or unable to combat the terrorist threat inside its borders (or perhaps this is just a PR stunt aimed at China’s expanding influence over Pakistan).
But, okay, fine – let’s accept the rationale of the terrorist threat. If we are going to ignite a powder keg that would begin with two-nuclear armed nations and eventually draw in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China, we should at least examine the context in which Pakistan and India are facing a serious threat of terrorism.
Following the money
The United States and its allies have had a curious relationship with Pakistan and terrorism for years, as anyone who knows their history will know. What they might not remember, however, is that in February 2007, then vice president, Dick Cheney, made a trip to Pakistan to meet with President General Pervez Musharraf. According to PBS, the secret US-backed campaign against Iran by the terror group known as Jundullah was high on Cheney’s agenda.
A few months later, ABC News reported that Jundallah, which is “responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005.”
The report explains that “US relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or ‘finding’ as well as congressional oversight.” Not to mention that former Pakistani army chief, retired General Mirza Aslam Baig, further explained that “the U.S. supports the Jundullah terrorist group and uses it to destabilize Iran.”
Okay, so the US supported the Jundullah group in Pakistan against Iran, but what does that have to do with the current situation at hand? Well, it appears that JeM and other terrorist organisations in Pakistan receive direct support from key US allies, including and especially Saudi Arabia.
For example, an action request cable archived by Wikileaks, documenting the illicit finance activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, stated that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”
“Still,” the cable continues, “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia “remains a critical financial support base” for – wait for it – “Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] and other terrorist groups.” The LeT is a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation which also has a strong focus on Jammu and Kashmir, where the recent terror attack took place (and India’s initial response). Both LeT and JeM have received overwhelming support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the early 1990s. In fact, LeT became part of the United Jihad Council in 1993, an umbrella group for militant Islamists operating in Kashmir and in doing so, formed a direct alliance with JeM. As far as the US State Department is concerned, the two groups are almost all but completely synonymous.
The ISI itself had been a prime recipient of billions of US aid, particularly under the administration of George W. Bush. The Wikileaks cable clearly shows that the US was well aware elements within the ISI were maintaining ties to the LeT.
The cable also noted that Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE have provided support to LeT and other terrorist groups operating in the region as well. All of these countries are US allies.
Furthermore, a separate Wikileaks cable confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been funnelling money not just to LeT but to JeM directly, stating that:
“Locals believed that charitable activities being carried out by Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith organizations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, and Jaish-e-Mohammed were further strengthening reliance on extremist groups and minimizing the importance of traditionally moderate Sufi religious leaders in these communities. Government and non-governmental sources claimed that financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in the region from ‘missionary’ and ‘Islamic charitable’ organizations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”
Saudi Arabia itself has been considered to be somewhat of a safe haven for jihadists targeting India, including and especially the LeT. An investigation also found that Saudi Arabia funnelled funds to anti-Indian terror groups through Hajj pilgrims, and the Diplomat lamented that JeM hunts for potential recruits among the 150,000 devout Indians visiting Mecca every year.
So, to summarise: the US has a long and documented history of backing anti-Iranian Sunni-based Pakistani terror groups. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have been funnelling financial support to the LeT, who has a direct alliance and operates in the same area as the JeM (who also receives direct funding from Saudi Arabia), which recently claimed responsibility for an attack which killed at least 40 Indian police personnel.
It’s not exactly rocket science. Call me a little bit suspicious, but perhaps this is why Saudi Arabia was quite open in its assurances to Islamabad that it need not go after JeM directly, even while the group’s leadership apparently continues to live comfortably inside Pakistan.
And what no one really seems to be talking about is the implications this wider geostrategic struggle has for the region. Saudi Arabia wants to win Pakistan over in a tug-of-war game in which Islamabad finds itself in the centre, and in doing so, is committing $10 billion to build an oil refinery in the Gwadar port project, which actually puts a major Saudi project on Iran’s border.
Most disturbing is the revelation that Saudi Arabia is also being rumoured to have nuclear weapons “on order” from Pakistan. If it isn’t bad enough that India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and are now potentially launching air strikes into each other’s territory, the idea that these apocalyptic weapons could one day end up in the hand of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the country currently launching a genocidal war in Yemen and backing known jihadists right across the wider region, all the whilst constantly threatening war with Tehran, is nothing short of suicidal.
According to Israeli media, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) recent visit to Pakistan has essentially cemented Pakistan’s inclusion in anti-Iran Arab NATO. Will these countries rush to Pakistan’s aid as it is pummelled by Indian fighter jets? Or will diplomacy and cooler heads eventually prevail?
Thankfully, we can trust the media to ask these all-important questions, and not focus its entire energy on yet another regime-change operation in yet another oil rich country, right?
(Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst, currently specializing in immigration, refugee and humanitarian law.)