The US justification of the recent F-16 package to Pakistan negates all recent fulminations in Washington against Pakistan for sheltering al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden and several other terrorist groups which pose a direct threat to the US. The statement made by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a clean slate to terrorist sponsoring Pakistan.
The continuous defence of the F-16 package by the Biden administration is one of the weakest diplomatic stances of recent times, showing how desperate the US is in courting a dangerously tilting Pakistan as the world moves to a highly unstable Cold War II situation with its epicentre in the Middle East and South Asia unfolding rapidly.
The change has been dramatic–last September, US Vice-President Kamala Harris was asking Pakistan to act against terrorist groups operating from its soil.The Biden administration, faced with a disgraceful exit from Afghanistan in August last, had persuaded global anti-terrorist financing watchdog, FATF, to keep Pakistan on the hook of a greylist as well as holding back the IMF relief. Early March this year, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs discussed a Bill that sought to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
It is ironic that the F-16 decision comes close to the 21st anniversary of 9/11 attacks, a cataclysmic terrorist attack on the US where the role of Pakistan in sheltering and supporting al Qaida and its key ally Taliban was widely questioned. Over the years since the Twin Tower attack, Pakistan has been found to play a key role in protecting al Qaeda, especially its chief Osama bin Laden and deputy chief Ayman al Zawahari. Pakistan’s protection of several other anti-US groups like the Haqqani Network too have been well documented since then.
In fact, a US think tank, Hudson Institute, in 2017, five years before the US exit from Afghanistan, said the “longest war in American history is a proxy war with Pakistan“. The report pointed that Pakistani safe havens for the Taliban “remain the single most difficult challenge to the NATO effort to stabilise Afghanistan.“ The report co-authored by former Pakistan Ambassador to US, Dr Hussain Haqqani, pointed out that despite over $25 billion in US assistance by two Presidents over 15 years, Pakistan Army had refused to stop its patronage of Haqqani Network and the Taliban.
Two years later, the Congressional Research Service, a research wing of the US Congress, warned that “Pakistan is a haven for numerous Islamist extremist and terrorist groups, and successive Pakistani governments are widely believed to have tolerated and even supported some of these as proxies in Islamabad’s historical conflicts with its neighbors.”
The fact that early this year, the US had to consult Pakistan to kill Ayman al Zawahari living a sheltered life near Kabul exposed Pakistan’s continuous support to anti-US terrorist groups and leaders over a decade after its active role in protecting Osama bin Laden was exposed in May 2011.
The reason for enumerating the above, largely US reports and documents, show clearly that Pakistan has not changed significantly in terms of curtailing its support to anti-US terrorist groups operating from home or in Afghanistan. Given such a well-documented characterisation of Pakistan’s terrorist face, the Biden administration’s turn-around justification of the F-16 package as a `counter-terrorist` assistance to Pakistan is glib and dangerous both.