June 4, 2012 | Commentary on Terrorism
Christmas Eve, 1999. Indian Airlines Flight 814, en route from Nepal to India, was taken over by a group of armed men. The plane zigzagged to Lahore, Pakistan, then to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and, finally, to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. One passenger was stabbed to death; several others were wounded.
Taliban fighters ringed the plane to prevent any rescue attempt by Indian Special Forces. After a weeklong stand-off, the government in New Delhi agreed to release three militants. And that was the end of the ordeal ... except it wasn't.
The taking of Flight 184 was a sign of things to come, and it should have set off a lot more alarm bells in the West. For one thing, the plot likely involved elements of ISI -- the Pakistani Intelligence Service.
One of the men released was Maulana Masood Azhar. His brother led the hijacking. The Pakistanis promised to arrest the hijackers when they returned to Pakistan. That never happened. Soon after returning to Pakistan, Maulana Azhar organized the Jaish-e-Muhammad, the Army of Muhammad. Islamabad has let JeM operate freely for many years.
Like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that perpetrated the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008, and the Haqqani Network, which has organized attacks against American forces in Afghanistan, JeM is allowed to do pretty much whatever it wants. Yes, the Pakistani government "banned" JeM after 9/11. Big deal -- the group continues to hold public meetings, openly preaches violent jihad and runs front organizations, including public charities and newspapers. As for Azhar, the Pakistani government shrugs its shoulders and claims it just doesn't know where he is.
JeM is also a worry because of the company it keeps. For example, LeT and JeM reportedly worked together in the Dec. 13, 2001, attack on the Indian Parliament building. And these group have links to -- or serve as "feeder" organizations for -- al Qaeda.
According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, "JeM has openly declared war against the United States." While the group originally focused on the conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, it has now banded with other extremist groups to help organize attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan and Western interests in Pakistan.
While the president was at the NATO summit in Chicago engineering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, too little was said about what will be done to prevent the embers of a transnational Islamist insurgency from fanning a new forest fire of global terrorism. Pakistan was in the Windy City as an observer, but no one scolded Islamabad about sheltering JeM and other members of al Qaeda's family of fiends. Too bad.
Then, to rub it in, instead of tracking down those who aid al Qaeda, Pakistan rewarded the doctor who helped get bin Laden with a 33-year sentence in a Pakistani prison.
Even more disappointing: Even the U.S. and her allies have been reluctant to go after JeM and company head-on, even though these groups are killing our troops. Though Washington is happy to send SEAL Team Six after bin Laden and turn the drones loose on al Qaeda operatives, it has been loath to wage an all-out offensive on leaders of the Haqqani Network, the Taliban and JeM in Pakistan. Government officials would likely defend their restraint as necessary for negotiating with the Taliban and preserving the relationship with them. But that strategy is less about making us safe and more about establishing a glide path for withdrawal by Election Day.
Drones are not an answer to everything, and they are certainly not the solution to eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. Even less efficacious is an evident desire to walk away from that part of the world without a plan to keep the Taliban and al Qaeda from roaring back. It will only leave us right back where we started.
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on June 3rd, 2012.