Given Pakistan’s unsavoury record of involvement with international jihadist groups, the disclosure by Raja Zafar ul Haq that Pakistan Army was involved in training Palestinian terrorists, not just in the past but even today, shouldn’t really have come as any surprise. Sources in the Israeli government confirm, having intelligence of deep links between Pakistan and the Palestinian Para-state terror group, Harakat al-Muqāwamah al-Islamiyah a.k.a HAMAS.
Zafar ul Haq who is a former senator and enjoys infamy of being the “opening batsman” of former military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, has for many years had close links not just with the military establishment in Pakistan but also with Islamist groups around the world. Perhaps it was the occasion – a Jamaat Islami conference to discuss the Palestinian issue – that prompted Haq to reveal what many had suspected. During the recent Israel-Palestinian crisis, the Hamas’ close links with the Pakistanis were quite visible. The Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh even addressed a public meeting, albeit through a pre-recorded speech. The reaction of the Pakistanis, trying to be more Arab than the Arabs in their backing for Hamas was also quite over-the-top. It suggests that there is more to the relationship than simply lending ‘moral, diplomatic and political support’ – India knows well that these innocuous sounding words of solidarity are Pakistani short-hand for supporting terrorism.
Although there has been no official Pakistani response to Haq’s remarks of giving material help to Hamas, chances are that Pakistani officials will keep quiet, hoping that this story will soon be buried. The only problem is that every once in a while, some Pakistani official or the other is unable to resist the temptation of grand-standing and tends to shoot his mouth off, more so if a precedent has already been set. Some years ago, the former ISI chief and the man responsible for the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, Javed Nasir, filed an affidavit of how ISI had violated UN arms embargo and supplied weapons to the Bosnians.
Before 9/11, when publicising jihad was part of the Pakistan Army’s image building exercise to present itself as fighting worldwide for the glory of Islam, there were any number of reports about the exploits of Pakistanis and their links with jihadist terror groups from the Maghreb to Mindanao in the Philippines. Recently, during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh there were reports of Pakistani involvement on the side of the invading Azerbaijani forces. In the middle-east, Pakistanis have boasted about the help they gave to the Arab states like Syria and Jordan during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. Of course, the Pakistanis often gloss over the massacre of Palestinians by the Brigadier (later General and dictator) Zia-ul-Haq in Jordan. But otherwise, they are always in the vanguard of supporting the Palestinian cause as part of their duty towards the Ummah.
Apart from the political and diplomatic angle, the revelation of training being given to Palestinian militants needs to be seen from the prism of security and strategy. In the middle east, Pakistan has generally been involved with either state actors or with non-state actors. If the intelligence of Pakistan’s links with Hamas is to be believed, then Pakistan is now getting involved even with Para-state actors like Hamas. Hezbollah being a Shia group, virtually an auxiliary of Iran, might be off limits for the Pakistanis. But Hamas, a Sunni group, might be open to establishing links with Pakistan despite the support it gets from Iran. If indeed Pakistan has jumped into this game, then is it to expand its own footprint? Is it to side-line Iran (perhaps on the instructions of either Turkey or even of some Arab countries which are not exactly enamoured of Hamas)? Is it to complement Iran’s support? Or is it just simply as part of its involvement with jihadist groups wherever they are?
The other angle from which this nexus needs to be viewed is the tactics of terrorism. While Pakistan might be giving training, and even some technology and equipment, to Hamas, it would also be learning something from Hamas. For example, were the tunnels that have recently been discovered in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, inspired by Hamas’s tactics in Gaza? Some months back, there were one or two instances of rockets being fired across the Punjab border. Was that testing the ground before someone got cold feet in Rawalpindi and stopped? There have also been multiple instances of drones being rigged to drop weapons across the international border and Line of Control.
What other such tactics could be unleashed on India in the foreseeable future? It is a known fact that terror groups adapt, innovate, replicate terrorism tactics they learn from other terror groups. Are we going to see come of those tactics which Hamas and Hezbollah use against Israel, now being deployed against India? Given the close defence cooperation between India and Israel and the use of Israeli equipment by the Indian security forces, is Pakistan trying to figure out how Hamas adapts to counter Israeli security systems and use those against India?
During the recent anti-Israel demonstrations in Pakistan, there were many Palestinians who were actively involved. Are all of these people in Pakistan for bonafide reasons – studies or work – or are they involved in something much more nefarious? A couple of years back, we saw the Palestinian ambassador in Islamabad sharing the stage with some of the most notorious terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba. There is also the issue of Pakistan using Afghan territory once again for setting up terror training facilities. While India has expressed apprehensions that Pakistan will shift training facilities for jihad in Kashmir to Afghan camps, there is also a likelihood of training for Palestinian terrorists being imparted in these camps.
While Pakistan will try to brush the Pakistan-Hamas nexus under the carpet, India and Israel need to look at it very closely, more so when their enemies are now reportedly working in tandem.
Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation. He is an expert on Pakistan and Terrorism, his published works include Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (2017), Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s Comprador model of investment in Pakistan (2016).
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