Experts at a seminar titled 'Cross-Border Terrorism: Challenges in South Asia and its Neighbourhood', hosted by The Democracy Forum at the University of London's Senate House, opined that South Asia and its neighbours are facing growing threats from cross-border terrorism. Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistani journalist who is now living in exile, offered a brief history of Pakistan's obsession with jihadi proxies in the region.
"The Pakistan military protects itself by keeping the threat of India alive and though Pakistan initiated conflicts with India, it told the public it is only countering Indian aggression. Pakistan relies on internally-based militant groups to keep tensions simmering, and the army has the 'perfect excuse for a tax burden' on the country's economy, creating a Mafia-like protection racket. The military creates its own demand in Pakistan," Siddiqui said while addressing the audience.
"Can the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the UN and other international bodies and governments compel Pakistan to give up its `jihadi' proxies in the South Asian region?" was the key question put forth by Taha Siddiqui. He spoke of the international commitments Pakistan should fulfil and the pressures it should face for its actions in sponsoring terrorism.
He also spoke of how military proxies have been operational during natural disasters in Punjab and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), working within the public under the guise of 'charity groups,' labelling Balochistan as 'a hotbed of terrorist groups'. Dr C Christine Fair from the Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University examined Pakistan's enduring imperative to use cross-border terrorism to try and resolve its basic conundrum; it wants to try and change maps, but it has an army that cannot win wars and has nuclear weapons it can't use. So it has settled upon a strategy of proxy war in Kashmir and elsewhere in India under the safety afforded by its nuclear arsenal, according to Fair.
She looked at the Pakistan puzzle from the perspective of policy-makers, particularly the US, saying that, although people talk about an India-Pakistan dispute, most people who are knowledgeable know that 'this is really Pakistan's dispute with India'. Fair also addressed how Pakistan's nuclear umbrella has enabled it to engage in sub-conventional warfare with India with impunity, and Pakistan's 'geographic revisionism vis-a-vis India', having 'located itself as the only country to resist India's rise'.
Introducing the topic, seminar chair and former BBC Asia correspondent Humphrey Hawksley spoke of the 'melee of insurgencies in South Asia' and how terrorism, wherever it happens in the world, is far bigger than its local elements, with insurgencies always requiring the support of big powers. Fatemeh Aman, a Senior non-resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, focused on insurgencies in Iran's eastern and western border regions, considering how the Iranian authorities' responses to cross-border terrorism have impacted on both the internal politics of the country and its relationships with its South Asian neighbours, especially Pakistan.
She discussed the root causes of terrorism in different regions of Iran and how some insurgent groups such as the Salafis enjoy the support of the Iranian intelligence community to fight other insurgents and looked at the rise of ISIS and Islamic State Khorasan in Afghanistan. Despite what one hears from Washington, Aman said, "I do believe Iran is interested in peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government."
Rounding off the proceedings, TDF Chair Barry Gardiner, who is also a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom and Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, highlighted the profound influence our neighbours have on us. "Scratch history, find geography," he said.
(With inputs from agencies.)