Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the country does not permit terrorist groups to operate on its soil, and denounced what it called “the false narrative of safe havens.” Instead, Pakistan blamed their long-running dispute with India over Jammu and Kashmir as the root cause of instability in the region.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was responding to President Donald Trump’s assertion that the US “can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” during his speech on Aug. 21 that outlined US strategy towards Afghanistan and the wider South Asia region.
“Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people,” Trump said later in the speech, which was a scathing rebuke of Pakistan’s perfidy towards the US and its allies in Afghanistan. “No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Trumps comments yesterday in an official statement which was released on its web site.
“As a matter of policy, Pakistan does not allow use of its territory against any country. Instead of relying on the false narrative of safe havens, the US needs to work with Pakistan to eradicate terrorism,” it claimed. “The threat to peace and security cannot be isolated from the complex interplay of geopolitics, continued existence of festering disputes and pursuit of hegemonic policies. Non-resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains the primary obstacle to peace and stability in the region.”
Pakistan’s denial of harboring terrorist groups quickly falls flat on its face when examining Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which not only supports both al Qaeda and the Taliban, but has executed numerous attacks in India as well as in Afghanistan. While LeT is by no means the only jihadist group supported by Pakistan, it is one of the most prominent.
LeT was founded in 1987 by its leader, Hafiz Saeed, along with Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, the godfather of international jihad. Bin Laden helped LeT establish training camps in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Paktia, where it continues to operates to this day. LeT shares al Qaeda’s goal of establishing an Islamic state in South Asia and beyond.
In a report submitted to Congress in June, the US Department of Defense explained the enduring importance of the jihadists’ safe havens in Pakistan. LeT was mentioned as one of several jihadist groups that maintain “sanctuary on the Pakistan side” of the border.
“Attacks in Afghanistan attributed to Pakistan-based militant networks continue to erode the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship,” the Pentagon noted. “Militant groups, including the Taliban and Haqqani Network, continued to utilize sanctuaries inside Pakistan.
“The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Sanctuary on the Pakistan side and presence on the Afghan side remain a security challenge for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability.”
Inside Pakistan, LeT operates openly and has offices throughout the country. Markaz-e-Taiba, its headquarters in Muridke near Lahore, is a sprawling complex used to indoctrinate future jihadists before they are sent off for military training. The provincial government of Punjab has financed Markaz-e-Taiba in the past.
LeT has mastered the art of using charitable groups to fundraise as well as promote its message and recruit. Since 2010, the US has identified the following groups as LeT fronts: Falah-i Insaniat Foundation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awwal, and Al-Muhammadia Students. These LeT fronts continue to operate inside Pakistan without consequence.
This terrorist infrastructure has been used to conduct egregious terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan. In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, the US State Department noted that LeT “has conducted operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in Jammu and Kashmir since 1993; several high profile attacks inside India; and operations against Coalition Forces in Afghanistan.”
The most prominent attack took place in Mumbai, India, when a suicide assault team fanned out across the city and targeted multiple locations, including a theater, a train station, hotels as well as a Jewish center and killed 164 people. The attack lasted for three days. Indian intelligence traced phone calls back to handlers in Pakistan as the assault was ongoing. The handlers directed its fighters to execute non-Muslims, often brutally, and laughed when their instructions were carried out.
The US has listed LeT as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since Dec. 2001, after an assault on the Indian Parliament building, and its emir Hafiz Saeed and numerous LeT leaders, financiers, and operatives since then.
Despite LeT’s overt ties to al Qaeda and its campaign of terror in India and Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has refused to crack down on the group. The organization’s complexes in Muridke and throughout the country remain open and its leaders and charitable fronts operate unfettered. Hafiz Saeed is feted by Pakistani officials, who refuse to hold him and other LeT leaders accountable for their actions. Not a single member of LeT who has been implicated in the Mumbai attack has been prosecuted.
According to the US Department of State, the only “significant action against LeT” taken by Pakistan in 2016 was to continue “implementing an ongoing ban against media coverage of their activities.”
But that is just the LeT. Pakistan continues to justify its support of terrorist groups by distinguishing between what it calls “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.”
Simply stated, the so-called “good Taliban” are groups that advance Pakistan’s foreign policy goals and do not threaten the state or wage war within its borders. “Good Taliban” and other groups deemed acceptable by the Pakistani establishment such as the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Mullah Nazir Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, conduct numerous heinous acts of terrorism in the region, and are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and civilians.
“Bad Taliban” are any jihadist faction that challenges the primacy of the Pakistani state. The Pakistani military has pursued these groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with some success. However, when targeting these groups, the military has often stopped pursuing when a “good Taliban” group such as the Haqqani Network provides shelter and support for the “bad Taliban.”
For more information on Pakistan’s support of terrorist groups, see FDD’s The Long War Journal report – Pakistan: Friend or Foe in the Fight Against Terrorism?
Alexandra Gutowski contributed to this article. Alexandra is a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.