(CNS News) – Secretary of State John Kerry praised Pakistan Thursday for acting against terrorist groups – one week after U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders urged him to act against Islamabad for not doing so.
In a joint appearance with visiting Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan on the sidelines of the White House summit on “countering violent extremism,” Kerry said the Pakistanis “are committed to going after terrorists, all forms of extremism in Pakistan.”
“And they are making good on that in their initiatives in the western part of the country and elsewhere, and in their cooperation on counterterrorism,” he added.
“A lot has happened in the last years that has emboldened some of the extremists,” Kerry said, without elaborating. “It’s something that Pakistan is deeply concerned about. We’ve had long conversations about it. And I look forward to continuing the cooperative effort on the economy as well as the cooperative effort in counterterrorism and democracy building.”
Critics have long accused Pakistan of using militants as a foreign policy tool, pointing to links between its Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and terrorists, including groups fighting Indian forces in disputed Kashmir and others involved in the fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Wanted Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed,
leader of Lashkar e-Toiba/Jamaat ud-Dawa,
addresses a rally near the federal parliament
in Islamabad on March 27, 2012.
(AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File)
In arguably the most glaring case, Pakistan has for years refused to act against Laskhar e-Toiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed, a U.N.-designated global terrorist who is wanted by India for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Six Americans were among the 166 people killed during the 60-hour assault in India’s financial capital.
Despite being the subject of a $10 million U.S. reward offer Saeed remains a free man and, according to India, even enjoys official support. LeT, which renamed itself Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD), also carries out charitable work. (The State Department has designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization under both names.)
Just last month Kerry said during a visit to Islamabad that his hosts had assured him they would against “all” terror groups, notably including LeT.
In a letter to Kerry on February 12, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) called for a new approach towards Pakistan.
“We urge you to consider implementing travel restrictions, suspending portions of assistance, and sanctioning Pakistani officials that maintain relationships with designated terrorist groups,” they wrote.
“Such an approach would make clear that the U.S. and Pakistan cannot have a true strategic partnership until Pakistan cuts all ties with terrorist organizations and renounces its use as an instrument of state policy.”
Royce and Engel acknowledged that Pakistan has acted against the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban. (Kerry on Thursday alluded to this when he spoke of the government’s “initiatives in the western part of the country.”)
But, they continued, “it has done much less to combat other designated foreign terrorist groups such as Laskhar e-Toiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Muhammad. This selective approach appears to stem from a misguided belief that some terrorist groups serve Pakistan’s foreign policy goals in India and Afghanistan.”
Royce and Engel said although LeT/JuD was ostensibly outlawed, it was “still able to operate with virtual impunity.”
“Just days ago, on January 25, JuD held a rally in Karachi that appeared to have taken place with government permission.”
Royce and Engel may have the opportunity to question Kerry on Pakistan when the secretary appears before the committee next Wednesday, to justify the administration’s fiscal year 2016 foreign affairs budget request.
‘Ups and downs’
In his comments with Kerry Thursday, Interior Minister Khan spoke optimistically about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and “our joint fight against extremism.”
He conceded ties had gone through “ups and downs.”
“But over the last few months, and I think due to the efforts of Secretary Kerry and the administration, there has been a huge quantum leap in the level of confidence, in the level of trust, and in the level of cooperation,” he said.
“I think what happened a year or a year and a half ago after the Salala incident, and then subsequently the reaction which led to blockade of the Afghan transit supply routes – I think that’s a far cry [from where things are] now, and both the United States and Pakistan are working very, very closely.”
The “Salala incident” refers to a U.S. air strike along the Afghan-Pakistan border in November 2011 which killed 24 Pakistani troops, and prompted the government to close key NATO supply lines into Afghanistan until the following summer.
Relations had in fact been severely strained well before then, however, in part over U.S. drone strikes against terrorists along the border.
The U.S. Navy SEALS’ raid the previous May on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad caused a furor, as did a controversy over a detained American official, put on trial for shooting two Pakistanis in January 2011.
Raymond Davis was freed in March of that year, after relatives of the men he killed were paid “blood money,” an arrangement permissible under shari’a. The administration said the money did not come from the U.S. government.