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FBI chief Christopher Wray should have focused on Pakistan, not Pannun

Opinion

FBI chief Christopher Wray should have focused on Pakistan, not Pannun

If Wray visit’s sole purpose was India’s alleged role in the Pannun plot, not Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, then there’s something horribly wrong in the American policy of combatting global terror

Aninda Dey December 15, 2023 16:54:20 IST FBI chief Christopher Wray should have focused on Pakistan, not Pannun

National Investigation Agency (NIA) Director General Dinkar Gupta presents a memento to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher A Wray during a meeting, in New Delhi on 12 December. 2023. PTI

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher A Wray’s much-hyped India visit, under the shadow of the alleged plot to eliminate Sikhs for Justice founder and American citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, is over.

During the first visit by an FBI chief to India after 13 years, no breakthrough or considerable achievement in fighting transnational terrorism, especially foreign-based Khalistani terrorists, and cybercrime or extradition was achieved—at least, that’s what media reports indicate.

Except for Wray assuring NIA director Dinkar Gupta that the United States (US) is probing the two attacks on the Indian Consulate in San Francisco this year “aggressively”, it was business as usual even with CBI director Praveen Sood.

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According to a news report, the Pannun controversy was “diplomatically unaddressed”.

Pakistan not on agenda and recent US action

The recent US action and alacrity regarding the alleged Indian role in countering the Khalistan problem are mind-boggling considering the American global war against terrorism. 

Washington rushed to back Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s unproven allegations of New Delhi’s role in the murder of Khalistan Tiger Force chief and wanted terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey in June.

In September, US national security adviser (NSA) Jake Sullivan said, “There’s not some special exemption you [referring to India] get for actions like this [Nijjar’s murder]. Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles.”

In November, Damian Williams, US attorney for the southern district of New York, filed “murder for hire” charges against Indian Nikhil Gupta, an alleged go-between between an Indian official and a “criminal associate” who introduced Gupta to a ‘hitman’. The “criminal associate” was, in fact, a “confidential source” of the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the ‘hitman’ an undercover officer, according to the court.

The US cranked up pressure on India to probe the alleged Pannun plot.

Something very striking was missing during the FBI chief’s visit—Pakistan, the biggest financer, exporter and promoter of terrorism. 

Pakistan has been the biggest threat to India’s national security since its late Army chief and President General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s Operation Topac, which started exporting Afghan Mujahedeen to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and training its disaffected youth to trigger terrorism in 1988.

It has been more than three decades since the Pakistani Army, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and successive governments have been bleeding India.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, more than 22,200 civilians and around 8,400 security personnel have been killed by terrorists in J&K from 1988 to 2023.

From a cancerous tumour in J&K, terrorism has metastasised to the whole country.

Pakistan-based terrorist groups, especially the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), or the ISI were responsible for the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, 2001 J&K Assembly car bombing and Parliament attack, 2003 Mumbai twin car blasts, 2005 Delhi bombings, 2006 Mumbai train explosions, 2008 Mumbai attacks, 2016 Uri attack and 2109 Pulwama attack.

If Wray visit’s sole purpose was India’s alleged role in the Pannun plot, not Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, there’s something horribly wrong in the American policy of combatting global terror.

When the alleged Pannun conspiracy was ‘exposed’, President Joe Biden quickly dispatched CIA director William J Burns in August and National Intelligence director Avril Haines in October to India to demand a probe.

Even Sullivan raised the ‘plot’ with Indian NSA Ajit Doval on the sidelines of a meeting on the Russia-Ukraine war in Jeddah in August.

Earlier this month, US principal deputy NSA Jonathan Finer met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra and deputy NSA Vikran Misri in New Delhi.

Unsurprisingly, Burns, Haines, Finer and Wray landed in India because the Pannun ‘plot’ was hatched on American soil. Similarly, the US backed Canada’s Nijjar accusation because they are members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and have deep ties.

The American stance is more shocking after the US said that it stands with India to “counter global terrorism” in all its forms and manifestations during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit in June.

“President Biden and Prime Minister Modi reiterated the call for concerted action against all UN-listed terrorist groups, including Al Qaida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen,” a joint statement issued by the White House read.

Both nations “strongly condemned cross-border terrorism, the use of terrorist proxies and called on Pakistan to take immediate action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for launching terrorist attacks”.

Both the US and India called for the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks “to be brought to justice”.

Honestly, the US had turned a blind eye to Pakisan-sponsered terrorism in India as Islamabad allowed planeloads of Stinger missiles to land in Pakistan for the Afghan Mujahideen to counter the devastating Soviet Hind attack copters in the late ’80s.

America changed its Pakistan policy only after 9/11 mastermind and Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was neutralised by the Navy SEAL Team Six inside a compound located around a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on 2 May, 2011.

However, America’s Pakistan foreign policy started changing again in 2022. Last October, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Islamabad from its Grey List, which requires increased surveillance for terrorism financing.

The FATF, controlled by the US, said that Pakistan, on the list since 2018, had “worked through two separate action plans and completed a combined 34 action items to address”.

Shockingly, LeT operative Sajid Mir, one of the terrorists responsible for 26/11, was back from his ‘grave’ to get convicted by a Lahore court before the FATF plenary session in June 2022. In 2021, Islamabad had declared him dead!

Similarly, UNSC blacklisted terrorist and LeT co-founder Hafiz Saeed was sentenced to 11 years in prison in two cases by the same court right before the FATF review meeting in 2020. In April 2022, Saeed’s jail term was increased to 31 years.

The US never objected to Mir’s back-from-the-dead appearance and Saeed roaming freely in Pakistan and coordinating attacks against India. 

In September 2022, the US approved a $450 million sustainment programme for Pakistan’s F-16s, used by the Pakistan Air Force in Operation Swift Retort following India’s Balakot airstrikes in February 2019.

US well aware Pakistan is a terror haven  

India’s request for extraditing Mumbai terror attack co-conspirator and Pakistan-origin Canadian businessman Tahawwur Rana from the US has been pending since June 2020.

The FBI chief didn’t promise anything substantial despite a discussion between Wray and Gupta regarding the extradition request and a US magistrate court in California ruling in May that Rana should be extradited to India. In fact, the Ninth Circuit Court had stayed Rana’s extradition in August following his appeal.

According to the US department of justice, Rana admitted that his childhood friend and 26/11 co-accused Dawood Gilani, aka David Coleman Headley, who recced potential targets for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, attended LeT training camps in Pakistan.

When the then-FBI director Robert S Mueller visited India in February 2010, the then-Union home minister P Chidambaram had requested access to Headley, according to WikiLeaks Cables.

Subsequently, an NIA team questioned Headley in Chicago in June 2010. However, he was smart enough to strike a plea bargain with US authorities by pleading guilty to all 12 counts and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Clearly, both Rana—for the time being—and Headley escaped jail in India because they are in the US.

Wray’s visit should have focussed on Pakistan, not Pannun, knowing that successive US government reports have highlighted the danger it poses to India.

The latest Congressional Research Service report states that American officials have “identified Pakistan as a base of operations and/or target for numerous armed, nonstate militant groups, some of which have existed since the 1980s”.

Among 15 terrorist groups listed by the report, 12, including the LeT and JeM, “are designated as foreign terrorist organisations under US law and most, but not all, are animated by Islamist extremist ideology”.

The US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2022, released in November, states that Pakistan “has yet to complete its pledge to dismantle all terrorist organisations without delay or discrimination”.

Despite Pakistan exiting the Grey List, several terrorist organisations, including UN-listed groups, “operated in the country, raising funds through a variety of means such as direct support, public fundraising, abuse of non-profit organisations, and criminal activities”, the report added.

The report mentioned how terror funds are moved through “formal and informal (Hawala/hundi) channels and bulk cash smuggling”.

Besides, some Pakistan-based madrasas “continue to teach extremism”, per the report. “Some [madrasa] failed to register with the government, to provide documentation of their sources of funding or to comply with laws governing acceptance of foreign students.”

In 2014, the then-Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism. However, “several United Nations- and US-designated terrorist groups continue to operate from Pakistani soil”, the report stated.

Similarly, the US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism in 2021, stated that Pakistan revised its 2015 NAP but made meagre progress in “dismantling all terrorist organisations without delay or discrimination”.

The report mentioned the same dangers of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations, including UN-listed groups, raising funds through illegal means and criminal activities. The situation of some madrasas hadn’t changed either with the teaching of extremist doctrine.

The 2020 report pointed to the same dangers as mentioned in the future reports.

The 2019 report, while mentioning the same dangers Pakistan posed, specifically pointed to JeM founder and UNSC-designated terrorist Masood Azhar.

“While Pakistani authorities indicted LeT co-founder Hafiz Saeed and 12 of his associates on December 11, they have made no effort to use domestic authorities to prosecute other terrorist leaders such as JeM founder Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir, the mastermind of LeT’s 2008 Mumbai attacks,” the report stated.

Both Azhar, who masterminded the Parliament attack, and Mir are “widely believed to reside in Pakistan under the protection of the state despite government denials”, the report added.

But the US removed Pakistan from the FATF Grey List despite Islamabad informing the watchdog in February 2020 that Azhar and his family were “missing.” Besides, Pakistan couldn’t explain why a terror financing investigation wasn’t launched against Azhar. According to the latest reports, Azhar in Pakistan’s protective custody.

Shockingly, in 2022, when Pakistan was removed from the Grey List, the US had admitted that it continues “to face threats from transnational terrorists and militants operating from within Pakistan”.

America’s Integrated Country Strategy for Pakistan, released in March 2022, stated that the US wants a Pakistan that doesn’t “engage in destabilising behaviour in the region and is willing and able to address domestic threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism”.

The US said that it would continue to insist that Pakistan take “decisive and irreversible action against militant and terrorist groups operating from its territory” .

Besides, the US stressed that Pakistan’s role in regional security and counterterrorism had been “amplified” after NATO’s departure from Afghanistan and Taliban rule.

It’s high time Washington cracks down on Pakistan instead of targeting New Delhi over alleged plots against Khalistani terrorists and separatists spewing venom against India.

Pakistani has always been a clear and present danger to India.

The writer is a freelance journalist with two decades of experience and comments primarily on foreign affairs. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely those of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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