Reports that the Pakistan government has moved on Islamic “militants” who allegedly were involved in attacks on Indian border military installations in early January is good news – not only for the region but for the U.S.
The Subcontinent has long been plagued with guerrilla forces –imed at supporting Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, the Moslem majority Himalayan state largely ruled by India. These groups had the support of the military, especially the country’s notorious intelligence community. But inevitably these Muslim terrorists have have expanded their activities beyond Kashmir into the growing international networks. With Pakistan’s huge population, virtually all Moslem, of 185 million, there is the growing threat it could become a principal recruiting area for the Mideast Islamic terrorists, constituting an enormous increase in the threat to the U.S. and other Western countries. In fact, Pakistanis have already appeared in the ranks of the Mideast Muslim terrorists.
Now Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharaz Sharif has arrested 13 Islamic militants including Masood Azhar, a notorious hardliner, in a move without precedent in response to Indian requests for aid in the investigations of the attack on the Indian air force base. The arrest followed recent impromptu meetings between Sharif, and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi. The arrest surprised most Western observers, especially given the irony that the two leaders share radical pasts: Sharif is close to the Saudi Arabian royal family and Modi comes out of the current ruling party in India with origins in Hindu revivalism.
It is not clear, of course, given the long conflict – four wars since independence when British India was split between the two countries – that the cooperation will continue. Indian officials insist militants from Jaish-e-Mohammad, the group led by Azhar, carried out the attack in early January on the strategic base near the India-Pakistan-Kashmir border. But a senior Pakistani government official confirmed that while Azhar had been taken into “protective custody”, he has yet to be charged with a crime. Characteristically, a Pakistan official said “[O]nce India gives us evidence of Masood Azhar’s involvement in the air base attack, we can then formally charge him. So far there is no hard evidence.”.
Azhar became a leading Moslem radical figure in1999 when, released from an Indian prison in a hostage swap following the hijacking of an Indian commercial airliner, he went to Kandahar in Afghanistan then under Taliban rule. Azhar’s release and alliance with the Taliban was seen by Western observers as an important gain for Moslem terrorists in the area and elsewhere.
The fact that Azhar has been allowed to remain free until now is a reflection of the conflicted elements in the Pakistan regime, both civilian and military, and their ambiguous relationship with the terrorists. Neither Pakistan’s alliances, again contradictory, with both the U.S. and China – have been enough to strengthen the internal anti-Moslem radical elements in the regime. Washington, of course, wants to halt any Pakistani assistance to the growing Mideast Moslem insurgencies, and China is plagued with a growing anti-Han revolt in its huge strategic Western province of Singkiang, bordering Pakistan with a history of its Uighur terrorists having been trained in Pakistan.
It now remains to be seen whether Azhar’s arrest marks a new and tougher policy by the Pakistani authorities toward Moslem radicals, plaguing both their own regime and its neighbors in Afghanistan where the border areas are sanctuaries. Pakistan’s relations with its longtime American ally have weakened with increasing collaboration between the U.S. and India, Pakistan’s perennial enemy. But with Congress voting a new aid package – added to the $67 billion [in constant 2011 dollars] to Pakistan between 1951 and 2011 – of $7.5 billion over five years [FY2010 to FY2014], it its time for the Obama Administration to turn its attention, quietly, to the new Pakistan-Indian cooperation.