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Now that Pakistan’s highest court has acquitted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, accused for his involvement in the 2002 abduction and subsequent decapitation of American journalist Daniel Pearl, the question on everybody’s lips is, ‘What next?’ Whereas Sindh Government says it’s filing a review petition against the supreme court’s verdict, while the federal government has pledged its “full support,” but given Islamabad’s characteristic reluctance to act against terrorists, these assurances have done precious little to allay fears of yet another hardcore terrorist going scot-free. Perhaps this is why US acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen has said that “The United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here.”
Sheikh’s case has once again exposed Islamabad’s duplicity in its much-hyped ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism because his involvement in Pearl’s abduction and murder case wasn’t the first terrorist act, he committed. Eight years before, as a Harkat-ul Ansar [HuA] terrorist, Sheikh had kidnapped four foreign tourists [three Australian and one American national] from New Delhi. To secure their release, a demanded that ten terrorists jailed in J&K should be set free was made along with the threat to behead the hostages if the demand wasn’t met. Luckily, the police were able to secure the release of the abducted foreigners after a bloody shootout, while Sheikh was apprehended and imprisoned.
However, in 1999, Pakistan based terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft and managed to secure release of Sheikh along with two other convicted terrorists in exchange for passengers of this flight. Even though Sheikh took refuge in Pakistan and made no efforts to conceal his identity or whereabouts, Islamabad didn’t consider it necessary to ensure that this terrorist guilty of abduction is brought to book. The reasons for such an irresponsible behaviour are obvious-firstly, Islamabad’santi-India mindset makes it believe in the ‘enemy’s enemy being a friend’ philosophy. Secondly, since HuA is one of the many terrorist groups Pakistan army is using to wage a proxy war against India, Rawalpindi has ensured that Sheikh remains beyond the reach of the law.
This incident, which exposes Islamabad’s utter lack of seriousness in holistically combatting terrorism can not be dismissed as a mere aberration because it’s not the only instance of Islamabad looking the other way as terrorist masterminds based on its soil were running riot in neighbouring countries. Its long list failures to bring terrorist leader living in Pakistan to justice includes architects of 2001 Indian Parliament terrorist attack, 2002 Mumbai carnage, 2016 Pathankot airbase attack, 2019 Pulwama car bombing of a bus carrying central police force personnel, and many more such despicable acts of terrorism. In fact, anyone following what Pakistan’s leaders, Generals and government officials have been saying will agree that Islamabad and Rawalpindi always had an extremely selective approach towards terrorism dictated by its self-serving interests.
While talking about terrorism during a 2014 TV interview, Adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, made Islamabad’s stand on terrorism clear by saying, “Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?” Two years later, he not only admitted that Pakistan had been hosting Afghan Taliban for 35 years but also boasted that “We have some influence over them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities.” So, former US President Donald Trump wasn’t at all wrong when he tweeted that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan…!”
[This article appeared in Eurasia Review on 31 Jan 2021]