IN A clear signal to Islamabad amid signs of de-escalation with Delhi, the US has warned Pakistan that another terror attack on India will prove to be “extremely problematic” and would “cause re-escalation of tensions”.
It also said that the US and the international community need to see “irreversible”, “concrete” and “sustained” actions by Pakistan against terror groups, including the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), PTI reported quoting a senior US administration official in Washington DC.
According to the report, the official also said that China has a responsibility not to shield Pakistan, and expressed deep disappointment over Beijing’s decision to block a bid in the UN to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist”.
After the Pulwama terrorist attack on February 14, the US had named Pakistan in all its statements condemning the incident and had done the heavy lifting with China to convince them to sign off on the UNSC condemnation statement. It had also said that India had the “right to self-defence”, which had emboldened Delhi to conduct the retaliatory Balakot airstrike on February 26.
“We need to see Pakistan taking concrete and sustained action to rein in the terrorist groups, mainly the JeM and the LeT in order to ensure that we don’t have re-escalation,” the US official said.
“If there’s any additional terrorist attack without Pakistan having made a sustained, sincere effort against these groups, it would be extremely problematic for Pakistan and it would cause re-escalation of tensions, which is dangerous for both countries,” he said.
Asked about the steps taken by Pakistan in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrike, including actions against JeM — New Delhi has asked for credible, verifiable and sustained action — the official said: “It’s early to make a full assessment.”
In recent days, the official said, Pakistan has taken some “initial” actions, including freezing the assets of some terrorist groups, making some arrests and taking administrative control of some JeM facilities.
“But we clearly need to see more. We need to see irreversible action because in the past, what we’ve seen is they made some arrests and then a few months later, they released these individuals. The terrorist leaders are sometimes still allowed to travel around the country, hold rallies,” the official said, in an apparent reference to 26/11 Mumbai terror attack mastermind and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed.
The official reiterated that the US is working with its international partners to increase pressure on Pakistan. “Because it has been too long that these groups have been able to operate,” he said.
Observing that Pakistan has economic concerns as well, the official said the Financial Action Tasks Force (FATF) is one area which demonstrates the need for them to take action against terror groups. “Otherwise, they’re at risk within the system and the FATF to be grey-listed,” the official said.
While the situation between the two South Asian neighbours have de-escalated, the two armies are still on high alert and that concerns the US, the official said.
“So, we realize that if there, God forbid, would be another terrorist attack that you could quickly see the escalation in the situation once again. So that’s why, we’re making clear that any additional military action by either side runs an unacceptably high risk, for both countries and for the region,” the official said.
Message for Pakistan but all eyes on China
At a time when tensions are de-escalating in the region, the US’s strong stance echoes Delhi’s view of the recent counter-terrorism actions in Pakistan by the Imran Khan government — India has called it cosmetic. It has also shared Delhi’s frustration over Beijing’s stalling of the terror listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar. With the US making its position clear in strong terms, much will depend on how China influences Pakistan to take irreversible action against terror groups.
“The terror terrorist attack on February 14th on India was a demonstration that Pakistan’s continuing provision of sanctuary for any terrorist group is not acceptable,” he said.
According to the PTI report, the official said that during the height of the crisis — February 26-28 — the US was in continuous contact with Indian and Pakistani officials. “They were working on the phones continuously and were deeply engaged in seeking to deescalate what was a very dangerous moment in India-Pakistan relations,” he said.
On China’s support for Pakistan, the official said: “We think China has a responsibility to also not shield Pakistan and join the international community in calling on Pakistan to take action against terrorists operating on its soil.”
At Pakistan’s behest, China has single-handedly blocked the proposal to list Azhar thrice in the past, in 2009, 2016 and 2017, and has put a technical hold this time.
“We believe that China and the US share a mutual interest in achieving regional stability and peace. And that any failure on the Security Council as part to designate Masood Azhar as a terrorist would run counter to this mutual goal that China and the United States have,” the official said.
“We don’t really understand this. China should not be shielding Pakistan’s support for known terrorist organisations. So, we’re hoping that we can work together on a mutual goal in terms of countering terrorism and upholding our security council responsibility,” he said.
The Trump administration’s view on China’s decision follows a move by Germany at the European Union to list the JeM leader as a global terrorist. France has already taken national action to sanction Azhar through a decree.
Noting that it was not the first time that JeM had attacked India, the official said this was the reason the Trump administration thinks now is the time for Pakistan to crack down on the terror group. This has been made very clear to the leadership of Pakistan, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
This same group was responsible for other attacks in India, including the 2001 Parliament attack, which resulted in a six-month India-Pakistan mobilisation, the official said.
The US is also working at the United Nations, urging Pakistan to uphold its responsibilities pursuant to its UN Security Council commitments to deny safe haven and support to terrorists and to freeze the funds and financial assets of entities on the UN Security Council 1267 sanctions list.