As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and the senior most South Asian-American member of Congress, I’ve watched the events of the past few weeks with deep concern. They remind all of us just how delicate matters are on the subcontinent.
The Kashmir issue is deeply complex and will require enormous political will to resolve. However, using violence and terrorism as a way to achieve political objectives is abhorrent and unacceptable. The United States strongly condemns terrorism. Pakistan must hold those responsible accountable.
The latest events began on Feb. 14, 2019 when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden SUV into a convoy carrying paramilitary police in Pulwama, killing at least 40 people. Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the bombing. On Feb. 26, Indian jets reportedly bombed a JeM facility in Balakot, Pakistan. The following day, Feb. 27, Pakistan launched an air to ground attack inside Jammu and Kashmir, and a resulting skirmish downed an Indian aircraft. The pilot was captured by Pakistan.
Pakistan did the right thing by releasing the downed pilot. This deescalated a dangerous situation but more has to be done. Prime Minister Imran Khan should use this opportunity to reset his country’s relationship with the world and chart a new course for Pakistan.
It starts with cracking down on JeM and other terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the terrible attack on Mumbai in 2008. To date, unfortunately, Pakistan’s behavior towards these terrorist groups have been contradictory and self-defeating. Pakistan has banned many of these terrorist groups, including adding two more groups on March 5, but at the same time tolerates them operating within its own borders. This has caused the international community to isolate Pakistan.
I am pleased that Pakistan has taken some initial steps, like detaining 44 suspected militants, including the brother of JeM’s leader, Masood Azhar. It is unclear, however, whether this “preventative detention,” as Pakistan described it, will lead to criminal prosecutions and justice being served.
Prime Minister Khan can help Pakistan earn enormous goodwill by tracking down and bringing to justice Azhar, whom the Pakistani Foreign Minister indicated was alive, with his whereabouts known. They can further that goodwill by dismantling the terrorist networks that operate within Pakistan. These actions are in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1267. If Khan does not take these steps, I’m afraid Pakistan will continue to slide into international isolation, which will only serve to increase economic hardship on the Pakistani people.
I also call on China to play a constructive role in India and Pakistan relations. A good first step would be for China to cease blocking a UN Security Council resolution designating Masood Azhar a global terrorist.
The United States Congress stands ready to support Pakistan should Prime Minister Khan begin cracking down on terrorist groups in earnest. This will only help improve his nation’s economy. In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with friends of India and Pakistan to achieve both economic and national security for these two great countries.
(Ami Bera, M.D. is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.)