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Mike Pompeo's statement on 26/11 is nothing new: US consistency and actual action on Pakistan are the real positives

On Sunday night, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the heinous attacks in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives and injured many others, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo issued a statement that sought to express "solidarity with the people of India and the city of Mumbai".

Aside from noting that the US is offering a reward of $5 million to anyone who provides "information leading to the arrest or conviction of any individual who was involved in planning or facilitating the 2008 Mumbai attacks", the statement called on Pakistan to uphold its "UN Security Council obligations to implement sanctions against the terrorists responsible for this atrocity, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates".

India's Ministry of External Affairs, in its own statement issued a few hours later, welcomed Pompeo's remarks and reaffirmed the Indian government's resolve to "to bring justice to the families of the victims and the martyrs". It's important here to keep matters in perspective and not view these statements in binaries of black and white:

The Taj Hotel during the attacks of November 2008. News18

The Taj Hotel during the attacks of November 2008. News18

First, that these represent some sort of foreign policy masterstroke by India/US/Narendra Modi/Donald Trump (depending on who is reading this); and second, that these are just pleasantries lacking in intent, conviction or dedication to cracking down on Pakistan and its harbouring of terrorists.

Before pinning down what India should actually take to heart, let's dig through some of the grey areas.

The part of the statement issued by Pompeo that called on Pakistan to crack down on the 26/11 terrorists is far from new as far as the US position is concerned. It may be recalled that the Modi-Trump joint statement in June 2017 also carried a line stating that the two leaders "called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based groups".

More recently, at the inaugural two-plus-two ministerial dialogue (between the foreign and defence ministers of both countries), a statement was issued that also "called on Pakistan to bring to justice expeditiously the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, and other cross-border terrorist attacks".

The mention of Lashkar-e-Taiba in connection with 26/11 is also nothing new. The US Department of State's 2009 Country Report on Terrorism drew reference to "the November 2008 Lashkar e-Taiba attacks in Mumbai, which killed more than 160 people", and this has remained a mainstay of statements relating to terror inflicted on India.

The consistency of the position on terror emanating from Pakistan across regimes — from Barack Obama's to Donald Trump's — is a positive, particularly considering the present US president's proclivity to fly off the handle and fire off volte face after volte face on a variety of issues across foreign and domestic policy. That the US and India are on the same page as far as terror groups harboured by Pakistan are concerned is another positive for New Delhi.

Statements of resolve and solidarity are all well and good, it can rightly be stated. But where's the action? Talk, after all, is often cheap.

That is where, rather fortunately, the Trump administration's actions over the course of this year alone have provided some succour. And three instances in particular come to mind:

Earlier this month, Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan participated in a fairly acrimonious exchange over Twitter. A few days later, it was reported that the Pentagon had decided to suspend $1.66 billion worth of security assistance to Pakistan. David Sedney, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary Defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia during the Obama administration, was quoted by PTI as saying, "So far, Pakistan has taken no serious steps to address the core US concern — that Pakistan tolerates and often encourages groups that use violence against Pakistan's neighbours."

This development came two months after the US military cancelled $300 million in aid to Pakistan that had been suspended over "Islamabad's perceived failure to take decisive action against militants". Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Kone Faulkner had said at the time, "Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed."

Flashback to February this year, and in a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the US prevailed upon China not to stand in the way of placing Pakistan back on the task force's grey list. The inducement for Beijing to go against its close friend Islamabad — depending on whom you believe — was the promise of the vice-chair of the FATF. Pakistan's return to the dreaded list officially went through in June. A further downgrade (to the blacklist) seems on the cards, considering Imran's frantic efforts to secure financial aid from friendly countries, given the International Monetary Fund's firm decision to link bailouts with a visible crackdown on terror financing and money-laundering  — something Islamabad has yet to do.

Taken together, these three developments represent firm on-ground action by the US that goes beyond merely 'calling on' Pakistan to do something.

The US will likely be aware of the consequences of being firm on Pakistan vis-à-vis both the security situation in Afghanistan and the risk of driving Islamabad even closer to Beijing and in time, possibly, Moscow. But for now, it's a risk Washington has decided to take and New Delhi can take heart.


Updated Date: Dec 07, 2018 21:41 PM

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