Yesterday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement protesting the US Department of Defense’s biannual report titled “Progress Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan.” In the report, dated October of this year, the DoD notes that Pakistan continues to serve as a safe haven for the Taliban and other jihadist groups and that the Pakistani government often uses some terrorist organizations as proxies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement is reproduced below, in full:
The Government of Pakistan takes serious exception to comments contained in the US Department of Defence report sent to the Congress under the title “Progress Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan”. While noting Pakistan’s cooperation with the US in areas of mutual interests, the recently-released report also carries unsubstantiated allegations of the existence of terrorist “sanctuaries” or that proxy forces are operating from here against Afghanistan and India. Pakistan’s protest over these unwarranted comments was conveyed by the Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz to the US Ambassador Richard Olson at the Foreign Ministry today.
Such allegations are of particular concern at this point when Pakistan government has launched comprehensive operations against militants in North Waziristan. The military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ has been broadly welcomed internationally, including in the U.S. The operation has successfully eliminated terrorist hideouts and is directed against all militants, without any distinction. We therefore hope that the issues will be seen in their correct perspective.
This is what the Progress Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan report stated about Pakistan [emphasis mine]:
The Haqqani Network remained the most potent strain of the insurgency and the greatest risk to U.S. and coalition forces due to its focus on high-profile attacks. The Haqqani Network and affiliated groups share the goals of expelling U.S. and coalition forces, destabilizing the Afghan government, and reestablishing an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They will likely remain the most significant threat to coalition forces in the post-2014 non-combat mission, especially if they are not denied sanctuary in Pakistan.
Nonetheless, Afghan-focused militants continue to operate from Pakistan territory to the detriment of Afghan and regional stability. During this reporting period, however, ongoing Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan disrupted militant networks that relied on this area for safe haven and slowed extremist attack plotting in Afghanistan. Senior Pakistani officials have publicly committed to holding this cleared territory, preventing militant returns, and building a more cooperative relationship with Afghan counterparts along the border.
This is the section that must have really upset the Pakistani government:
The United States continues to seek a constructive relationship with Pakistan that advances both U.S. and Pakistani interests. Pakistan’s relationship with the United States remains constructive, and both nations continue to acknowledge the importance of maintaining bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual concern and engaging on areas of divergence. Taliban attacks in Afghanistan launched from sanctuaries in Pakistan remain a serious problem. These sanctuaries exist primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan.
Pakistan and the United States cooperate on areas of mutual interest, including providing essential support to U.S. retrograde operations [withdrawal] from Afghanistan. In addition, Pakistan continues to cooperate with the United States on some CT [counter-terrorism] activities. Pakistan’s military made gains against the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and foreign fighters in the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during a major military operation. Afghan- and Indian-focused militants continue to operate from Pakistan territory to the detriment of Afghan and regional stability. Pakistan uses these proxy forces to hedge against the loss of influence in Afghanistan and to counter India’s superior military. These relationships run counter to Pakistan’s public commitment to support Afghan-led reconciliation. Such groups continue to act as the primary irritant in Afghan- Pakistan bilateral relations.
To summarize, the Pakistani government dislikes the fact that the US is pointing out what the entire world knows:
1) The Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (North and South Waziristan, etc.) remain a sanctuary for jihadist groups despite Pakistani military operations.
2) The Pakistani military and government continue to use jihadist groups as strategic depth against India as well as the US.
I would argue that the Pakistani government would have been better served ignoring the report altogether rather than drawing attention to it. In fact, the report is quite soft on Pakistan and its duplicity in supporting jihadist groups. If you knew nothing about Pakistan and read this report, you’d think that there is a jihadist problem in the FATA and the Pakistani establishment is backing some militant elements to hedge against India but the problem is manageable.
The reality is, however, that the problem in Pakistan remains far, far greater than that portrayed in the DoD report on Afghanistan. For instance, the report ignores the fact that the Afghan Taliban have a massive safe haven in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province that is used to support the group’s operations in southern, eastern, central, and western Afghanistan. Training camps, recruiting centers, and support nodes are strewn throughout Baluchistan, particularly in districts that border Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban’s governing body is called the Quetta Shura because it has been based in the provincial capital of Quetta. The Quetta Shura is said to have relocated to Karachi in Sindh province at some point over the past several years. But the Taliban maintain a significant presence in Quetta regardless.
Furthermore, the report doesn’t note that Lashkar-e-Taiba, the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that has a pervasive presence throughout the country, is backed by Pakistan’s elites. Lashkar-e-Taiba runs a massive complex at Muridke near Lahore that is used to train its operatives. Despite the fact that the jihadist group executed the 2008 assault in Mumbai, it is permitted to operate openly within Pakistan. Its members are above the law, such as it exists.
An alphabet soup of jihadist groups — Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, etc. — have a presence throughout the country and also operate with either the direct support or permission of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. All of these groups are allied with al Qaeda, and some likely have joined the group’s newest affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
In addition, the Pakistani offensive in North Waziristan isn’t “directed against all militants, without any distinction,” as the Pakistani government claims. The military has targeted the “bad Taliban,” jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, while ignoring the “good Taliban” such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group. The former are “bad” because they wage jihad against the state, and the latter are “good” because they wage jihad against the US, Afghanistan, and India.
These examples barely scratch the surface when it comes to Pakistan and its complicity in supporting terrorist groups. As noted earlier, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have been better off ignoring the report rather than reminding people about the country’s role in supporting the international jihad.
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