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EFSAS Commentary

Ambassador Masood Khan’s case is a fine example of how zero tolerance towards terrorism should play out


Reports in the Pakistani and Indian media this past week have claimed that the US has held up the acceptance of the Pakistani Ambassador designate to the US, Masood Khan, over his sympathy for, and links to, terrorist leaders known to be backed by the Pakistani military establishment. Some publications, such as the Pakistani daily Dawn, have pointed out that the US State Department has been taking “unusually long” to accept the nomination of Khan. The request for Agrément (approval of a designated diplomat by the receiving State) for Masood Khan had been sent to the State Department in the second week of November, 2021. Others suggested that in the light of US lawmakers having submitted written objections against Khan’s appointment, the US government had actually “blocked” it.

In recent years, EFSAS has all too often felt the need to underline how toothless and uncaring the international community had become to the gross disregard for human rights by chronic violators and to the naked promotion of terrorism by nations that for far too long had been allowed to evade the price that they ought to have paid for their bloody transgressions. Of late, in South Asia and its neighbourhood countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, China, and Pakistan have been the more egregious on these counts, but the inability of the United States (US)-led international order to rein in such countries and get them to adhere to the rule of law has also contributed to the sense of impunity that has now pervaded South Asia, as also many other more distant lands. It is, therefore, satisfying to be presented with an opportunity to dwell on a development that signifies a certain seriousness towards evolving a broader approach to tackling terrorism.

The 70-year-old Masood Khan is a Pashtun who was born in Rawlakot in Pakistan-Administered Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). He joined Pakistan’s Foreign Service in 1980 and worked as a diplomat. In his long career, Khan served in several high profile assignments, the first of which was when he was appointed spokesperson of Pakistan’s Foreign Office in 2003. By most accounts, he had a fairly successful tenure and was well liked by the media. Khan then went from strength to strength in his professional life, and after his stint as spokesman he was posted as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. In 2008, he proceeded to Beijing as Pakistan’s Ambassador to China, a much sought after assignment that only those in the good books of Pakistan’s military establishment could hope to aspire for. Four years later, he was appointed Permanent Representative to the UN in New York. Towards the end of his diplomatic career Khan served as Ambassador to The Netherlands. Pakistan’s present Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar described Masood Khan as “a highly accomplished diplomat with 40 years of experience in both multilateral and bilateral diplomacy”. Post retirement, Khan joined politics and became the so called ‘President’ of Pakistan-Administered J&K as a nominee of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

This brief background of Khan may convey the image of a skilled, polished, and effective official, and may raise questions about what it could be about him that has raised the antennae of the US government. A US lawmaker provided much of the answer. Expressing “grave concern” about the nomination of Khan as Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, Republican Congressman Scott Perry, in a letter to President Biden on 27 January wrote that “(Pakistan Prime Minister) Imran Khan’s nomination of a bona fide terrorist sympathizer working to undermine our interests in the region, as well as the security of our Indian allies, can only be described as a breathtaking lack of judgment at best, and a demonstration of Islamabad’s unmitigated contempt for the United States at worst. While I am encouraged that the State Department has reportedly placed a pause on approving Masood Khan as the new ambassador from Pakistan, a pause is not enough. I urge you to reject any diplomatic credentials presented to you by Masood Khan and reject any effort by the Government of Pakistan to install this jihadist as Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States”.

Perry did not stop at this. He enumerated specific instances of Khan’s dalliances with terrorists and his open promotion of terrorism. He contended that Khan had “praised both terrorists and foreign terrorist organizations – including Hizbul Mujahideen – in stark and unsettling terms” and “encouraged young men to emulate jihadists like Burhan Wani, a former commander of Hizbul Mujahideen who dedicated his life to a holy war against India”. Khan became the ‘President’ of Pakistan-Administered J&K two months after the killing of the dreaded Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani by Indian security forces. Masood Khan had then termed Burhan a “hero” who had passed on the baton of resistance against India in J&K through his “martyrdom”. In a special message on the death anniversary of Burhan Wani in July last year, Khan had further said that the terrorist leader would be remembered for his violent attacks on India. “The history of Kashmir will remain incomplete without the chapter of Burhan Wani because he is a hero and a glittering star of the liberation struggle which has been continuing for the last seven decades”, Khan had said.

Perry further recalled that Masood Khan had “lashed out” at the US in 2017 for designating the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen for sanctions, and he willingly appeared alongside Harkat-ul-Mujahideen founder Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a specially designated global terrorist, in 2019. Perry referred to the US treasury department’s assertion that Khalil had a close relationship with Al-Qaeda and its slain founder, Osama bin Laden. Perry also accused Khan of supporting the ‘Helping Hand for Relief and Development’, a group that has a partnership with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for killing 166 people, including Americans, in the horrific Mumbai attacks of November 2008.

Khan has also made no attempt to hide his intention, if he is eventually accepted as the envoy to the US, to push the Biden Administration for the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman convicted and imprisoned in the United States on serious terror charges. Siddiqui’s activities have been elaborated in more detail in the EFSAS Commentary of 21 January 2022. Late last year, weeks after he was named the envoy designate to Washington, Masood Khan had tweeted that “the US Government can find a way to free Aafia Siddiqui. Washington has negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban, once considered inveterate enemies. Room must now be created for Aafia’s freedom. Long overdue. Will be a bonanza for winning hearts and minds”.

This long list of Masood Khan’s pro-terror statements, glorifications and actions led Perry to conclude that “A litany of examples accompanies Mr Khan’s perverse attachment to Islamic terrorism, which makes it exceedingly obvious that Pakistan has embraced its identity as a super terrorist State”.

The delay by the US in approving Masood Khan’s appointment indicates that something is certainly amiss in US eyes regarding his credentials, even if the Pakistani Foreign Office felt it prudent to respond to the media reports and sought to deny that Khan’s name had been put on hold by the Biden Administration. The Foreign Office maintained that his Agrément was being processed in the US system. On the other hand the US Embassy in Islamabad, when asked by the Pakistani daily The Express Tribune about the controversy surrounding the delayed process responded crisply that “as a matter of standard diplomatic practice, we do not comment on the status of Agrément requests from foreign governments”.

Masood Khan’s Agrément may well still be processed in the US system as the Pakistani Foreign Office has claimed, and despite the inordinate delay he may eventually stride triumphantly into Washington DC, all his sins pushed under the carpet. Till that actually happens, however, it is heartening to note that the US may indeed be looking at expanding the scope of its anti-terror actions to include not just bombing terrorists hiding in remote caves in desolate mountains. Too long has the Pakistani leadership and officialdom been allowed to get away with brazenly promoting terrorists and terrorism targeting both Afghanistan and J&K. In J&K, the deceptive “moral and diplomatic support” that Pakistan claims to be extending has proved mainly to be convenient terminology for pushing a violent terrorist narrative. It is about time that anyone who speaks in favour of terrorism, even if it is an official immaculately suited and booted in western attire and suavely speaking a western language, is made to face the consequences.

If the terrorists holding the guns are vile, the ones egging them on to kill and be killed, without ever putting themselves in any such risk, can certainly be no better or no less damaging.