Pakistan continues to support terror across borders. It is time for the U.S. and India to unleash economic sanctions and coercive diplomacy.
The release from detention of Lashkar-e-Taiba operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Pakistan’s failure to prosecute him for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks is a travesty of justice. It is particularly galling when contrasted with the rapid proceedings against Shakil Afridi, the physician who helped U.S. intelligence agencies find Osama bin Laden.
But what is an even bigger scandal was the comfortable state of Lakhvi’s “incarceration”. In prison, Lakhvi had access to television, mobile phones, and the Internet. He had dozens of visitors a day; he held meetings unsupervised by prison guards. He was behind bars, but continued to direct LeT operations. All this and the clear lack of seriousness in prosecuting or imprisoning Lakhvi highlights the continuing cosy relations between Pakistan’s military and the terrorists that its generals find useful in pursuing strategic goals against India and Afghanistan.
The U.S. reaction
India has taken umbrage at Lakhvi’s release, but the U.S. should be equally appalled. Just a couple of days before Lakhvi’s release, the U.S. State Department had approved Pakistan’s request for $952 million in military equipment, ostensibly to be used to fight terrorism. In the Mumbai attacks, more than 160 civilians, including six Americans, were killed. The Americans were specifically targeted because they were Westerners. In this context, Pakistan’s decision to release a man who has American blood on his hands, just days after the U.S. agreed to provide the aid it had asked for, can be seen as a grave insult. Some Indians might even see it as proof of a double-faced U.S. attitude towards terrorism.
Besides this grant, the U.S. has given over $20 billion as military aid since 2002 and over $10 billion for development work. The aid was the carrot extended by the U.S. to encourage Pakistan to fight terrorism.
Instead, Pakistan has continued to be a leading source of terrorism worldwide. Besides the 2008 Mumbai attacks, terrorists linked to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have sponsored multiple attacks across India. Further, it effectively revived the Taliban insurgency with safe havens and equipment, furthering the instability in Afghanistan and costing the lives of over 2,000 U.S. military personnel.
Clearly, the carrots have not worked. It is now time for the U.S. to seriously consider wielding sticks. The U.S. has an enormous arsenal of sanctions that has been effective, for instance, against Iran. It is time for Pakistan to learn that there is a heavy price to be paid for misbehaving on the international stage. Terrorists are used to moving money illicitly but sanctions could prove painful to Pakistan’s generals and intelligence staff, who usually become quite wealthy in the service of their country.
If placing crippling trade restrictions on Pakistan and prohibiting all aid, except humanitarian, is too bold a step to be taken, there is a range of more targeted options that can be used.
Tools of restraint
The University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics has developed a programme titled STONE or Shaping Terrorist Organizational Network Efficacy. The programme uses a combination of network analysis tools, unique properties of individuals in the network, and “big data” analytics to identify the most critical nodes in a network. It also finds out how networks adjust to the removal of a node or nodes. STONE has so far been applied to open-source data on Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and LeT. Using past instances when leaders of terrorist organisations were replaced, one of STONE’s top three predictions has been to accurately pinpoint the successor to a removed terrorist in over 80 per cent of the cases.