How far New Delhi has to go in persuading the rest of the world to impose real costs on the Pakistani State for sponsoring terrorism against India has been underlined by events of the past fortnight. Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is just the latest example. Suu Kyi gave a thumbs down to the idea of isolating Pakistan or even cutting off terrorist groups and individuals. She vaguely spoke of the need to address the causes of terrorism — an echo of China’s standard line of the need to address “root causes” before doing anything against Pakistan. While Suu Kyi’s reference is unclear, Beijing’s has always been a coded reference to Kashmir. But the Myanmar leader is hardly the only one.
Just days before British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a state visit to India, the foreign office responded to a petition demanding clear steps against Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror by praising its “significant sacrifices” in the fight against terror and the “shared interests” of the two countries in this area. All of this comes on a BRICS summit whose final statement was notable for its avoidance of any reference to Pakistan and only an indirect reference to groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
There are several interconnected mythologies regarding terrorism and the conflicted nature of government interests regarding terrorism that are responsible for this mishmash of views on Pakistan. The most pernicious is the view of many governments that Pakistan-sponsored terror is aimed only at India and, therefore, not their concern. This flies in the face of considerable evidence that many of these India-centric terror groups are not above working closely with the likes of al-Qaeda. Also, the structure of Islamicist jihad is free-flowing: Recruits, training infrastructure and ideological inspiration are shared and move back and forth from one terror group to another. The other myth is that engaging with the Pakistani State will somehow persuade Islamabad to change its ways. The record shows almost the exact opposite.
There is now a deeply entrenched belief in the Pakistan military that allowing terrorism to flourish on its soil comes with almost no cost to itself. Russia’s claim that it was holding military exercises in Pakistan to help the latter’s “counter-terror” capabilities is another subset of this muddled thinking. Finally, there is the excuse of “root causes” and similar ether-spanning rationales.
The world is awash with people who have grievances, real or imagined, but only a small minority turn to violence to seek justice and even fewer see the solution in a blood-drenched messianic ideology. Terrorists generally come from well off, educated backgrounds. Their actions kill far more of their own religious or ethnic brethren than anyone else. And their goals have never been accomplished. These truths all apply to the case of Pakistan. But making the rest of the world understand this, it would seem, is a long hearts and minds struggle that has only just begun.