WASHINGTON: The US intelligence officials have informed Congress that Pakistan-based terrorist groups will remain a sustained threat to US interests in South Asia in 2017 and will continue to plan and conduct attacks inside India and Afghanistan.
In a joint report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, US spy agencies also warn that “the emerging China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will probably offer militants and terrorists additional targets”.
The report includes the assessment of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and warns that Islamabad’s “pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons potentially lowers the threshold for their use”.
The annual threat assessment is perhaps the most damaging US critique of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policies in years and blames the country not only for allowing terrorists to use its soil but also for deteriorating ties with India. It hints at the possibility of a direct conflict between the two neighbours if another “high-profile” terrorist attack in India is traced back to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats presented the report to the Senate committee on Thursday afternoon.
The report warns that Pakistan-based terrorist groups will present a sustained threat to US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan. The threat to the United States and the West from Pakistan-based terrorist groups will be persistent.
Plotting against the US homeland will be conducted on a more opportunistic basis or driven by individual members within these groups.
Pakistan will probably be able to manage its internal security. Anti-Pakistan groups will probably focus more on soft targets. The groups that will pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s internal security include the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the militant Islamic State group in Khorasan, Laskhar-e- Jhangvi, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami.
Early deployment during a crisis of Pakistan’s “smaller, more mobile nuclear weapons would increase the amount of time that systems would be outside the relative security of a storage site, increasing the risk that a coordinated attack by non-state actors might succeed in capturing a complete nuclear weapon.”
A section on ties between India and Pakistan notes that in 2016 relations between the two neighbours remained tense following two major terrorist attacks by militants crossing into India from Pakistan.
“They might deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan,” the report adds.
It warns Islamabad’s failure to curb support to anti-India militants and New Delhi’s growing intolerance of this policy, coupled with a perceived lack of progress in Pakistan’s investigations into the January 2016 Pathankot cross-border attack, “set the stage for a deterioration of bilateral relations in 2017.”
The report notes that increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, “might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbours”.
The report does not see much hope for an early resumption of India-Pakistan talks and notes that “easing of heightened indo-Pakistani tension, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan and progress in the Pathankot investigation”.
The report consolidates the pro-India tilt in the US policy for the South Asian region, which could lead to further deterioration of relations with Pakistan, which is no longer seen as a close ally in the United States.
The Trump administration regards terrorism as one of its top priorities and the report shows that the new US strategy will also focus on curbing the activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba that are blamed for launching cross-border attacks into India.
In his remarks to the Senate panel, Mr Coats said that because of its increasing isolation and deepening US-India ties, “Pakistan will likely turn to China to offset its isolation, empowering a relationship that will help Beijing to project influence into the Indian Ocean.”
A separate chapter on Afghanistan warns that the overall situation in the country will very likely continue to deteriorate, even if international support is sustained. Endemic state weaknesses, the government’s political fragility, deficiencies of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Taliban persistence and regional interference will remain key impediments to improvement.
The US intelligence community believes that Kabul’s political dysfunction and ineffectiveness will “almost certainly be the greatest vulnerability to stability in 2017” and “ANSF performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, ANSF combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support and weak leadership”.
The report says that ANSF will almost certainly remain heavily dependent on foreign military and financial support to sustain themselves and preclude their collapse.
It notes the Taliban were unsuccessful in seizing a provincial capital in 2016, but they “effectively navigated their second leadership transition in two years following the death of its former chief, Mansur, and are likely to make gains in 2017”.
The report warns that fighting in Afghanistan will also continue to threaten US personnel, allies, and partners, particularly in Kabul and urban population centres.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2017