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No short-term stakes in Af-Pak region

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Insurgents attack the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan headquarters and the US Embassy in Kabul [Image 11 of 17]
Insurgents attack the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan headquarters and the US Embassy in Kabul [Image 11 of 17]
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Nearly a month after the United States and India publicly "renewed" their pledge to combat terrorism and reiterated their "concern" over the threat posed by al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Haqqani Network "to stability in South Asia", President Barrack Obama is hosting Pakistan Prime Minister for a meeting at the White House on Oct 22. Pentagon will host the Pakistani Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif a month later.

Washington is doing its best to keep expectations low from these "summits" but observers aver that the tone and tenor of Obama-Sharif discussions will be as much an acid test to the American commitment to wage relentless fight against terrorism as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's oft-repeated desire for peaceful borders with his neighbours.

The US-India meeting in September was between Secretary of State John Kerry and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. It was billed as Strategic and Commercial Dialogue 'to realise the full potential of the relationship' between the two countries.

As deep throats stated at background briefings in the run up to the Dialogue, al Qaeda, LeT, and Haqqani Network are operating from safe havens in Pakistan. While LeT's target is mainly India, the Haqqani Network, along with Taliban, is active in Afghanistan to help Rawalpindi in achieving its goal of strategic depth beyond the Durand Line.

A joint declaration issued by Kerry and Swaraj also called upon Pakistan to bring to justice the LeT activists who had 'perpetrated' the 2008 Mumbai mayhem which claimed the lives of more than one hundred people, many of them American citizens.

This declaration was an endorsement of New Delhi's demand, and, therefore, the Indian diplomats might have gone into celebrations. But it did not bring about a change in the situation on the ground. Both the Haqqani Network and LeT's new avatar, Jamaat-ud- Dawa, (JuD), are not yet banned in Pakistan despite American pressure.

As several media reports show, the Mumbai attack's mastermind Hafiz Saeed is freely roaming Pakistan spewing venom against India and the United States. There is no let-up in the activities of his outfit either. Both the JuD and Saeed were banned by the U.N. under Resolution 1267 as an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in 2008.

Well, JuD figures on the list of groups being closely watched by Pakistani officials. So does the Haqqani Network. What this means is that both can be banned if found guilty of promoting militancy, and sectarianism. But in Pakistan, which is predominantly a Sunni country, targeting and maiming minority Shias is no big crime.

JuD took its birth after the Pakistani government banned the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) on 14 Jan 2002 in the wake of attack on Indian Parliament. The Haqqani Network has been spared the ban blues though the Americans and Indians have been blaming the outfit for several deadly attacks against Western and Indian assets in Afghanistan. In fact, the United States has designated the group founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani as a terrorist organisation since September 2012.

Going by media reports, for Pakistan, the Haqqani Network is Good Taliban; then who is the Bad Taliban? Who else other than the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has been giving sleepless nights to the Army and para-military forces particularly in the tribal belt of the country that borders Afghanistan?

Interestingly, the Islamic State (IS), also called Daesh, doesn't figure anywhere in the Pakistan's list of banned militant outfits.

Gen Raheel Sharif has publicly acknowledged that the IS poses gravest threat to his country. "As far as Daesh is concerned, in Pakistan, even a shadow of Daesh would not be allowed," he declared while addressing the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London on October 4, 2015.

His resolve is understandable because only in May, the militant group claimed the killings of at least 43 members of the Shiite Ismaili minority in Karachi in what has come to be known as the Safoora Goth carnage. But the lack of follow --up to translate the resolve to target Daesh into action is surprising. His US interlocutors will be keen to know first-hand from the General, when he visits Pentagon in November.

It is fashionable to believe that Daesh is the product of America's war against the secular --socialist Baathist Saddam Hussain. The Iraq war was no more than a catalyst to bring about an surge in Islamist fundamentalism which took shape in the Madrasas of Pakistan with Saudi money and American weapons during the time the Soviet Army was in 'occupation' of Kabul.

The urge to recreate a Kalifate is not new amongst Islamists; the demand has been championed for long years by outfits like Hizb-ut- Tahir (HuT), which is active not in its native Lebanon but in Pakistan and Central Asian Republics. The Islamic State (IS) campaign is leading a much wider and broad-based sectarian and ethnic conflict to the discomfort of Washington and ruling elites in Pakistan as also Middle East.

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Rama Rao Malladi is New Delhi based senior journalist and distinguished commentator on South Asian and Central Asian issues. He is a regular contributor to several publications in and outside India. His articles are featured in News Blaze.Rama (more...)

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