During the “Chiefs of Defence” meeting held in Kabul earlier today, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff claimed that his country “has eliminated all terrorist sanctuaries from its soil” and blamed “residual signatures of terrorists” on Afghan refugees living there.
Pakistani General Qamar Javed Bajwa made those delusional comments at a conference attended by US Central Command’s General Votel & Resolute Support commander General John Nicholson as well as the “Army Chiefs of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan,” according to a press release from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations branch, which summarized General Bajwa’s statement:
He said that Pakistan has eliminated all terrorist sanctuaries from its soil, however, residual signatures of terrorists who take advantage of presence of 2.7 million Afghan refugees and absence of effective border security coordination, are also being traced and targeted through ongoing operation Radd ul Fasaad. He also assured that Pakistani territory is not allowed to be used against any other country and Pakistan expects the same in reciprocity.
Bajwa’s comments about his country’s efforts against terrorist groups is a common refrain from Pakistani military commanders, politicians, and apologists. Another is to cry that Pakistan has lost more soldiers and civilians to terrorist attacks than other nations. But both arguments fall flat on its face since known terrorists and terrorist groups continue to operate unfettered inside Pakistan, often with the tacit approval and support of the state.
Look no further than Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – a terrorist group integrally linked to al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of other terrorist groups – openly operating in Pakistan and the region. Saeed, who is wanted by the US and the United Nations, is a public figure inside Pakistan and has routinely appeared on television programs and is photographed with Pakistani leaders and personalities. The government has occasionally placed Saeed under “house arrest” but he is routinely freed after a short detention.
Saeed’s LeT is responsible for the horrific 2008 assault on Mumbai and numerous other terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan. The organization’s complexes in Muridke and throughout the country remain open and its leaders operate unfettered. The group operates numerous charities as fronts and they have changed names several times over the past two decades to allow Pakistan officials to ignore it. Since 2010 alone, the US has identified the following groups as Lashkar-e-Taiba fronts: Al-Muhammadia Students, Falah-i Insaniat Foundation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, and Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awwal.
Yet Saeed remains a free man in Pakistan, and Lashkar-e-Taiba thrives.
If Saeed and LeT’s prominence inside Pakistan isn’t enough to demonstrate the insincerity of Pakistan’s toughness on terrorists, there are many more examples. Another one is Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and its emir, Syed Salahuddin. HM supports jihad in India and Afghanistan, and Salahuddin has close ties to LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Salahuddin, who openly fundraises for terrorist groups inside Pakistan, serves as the chairman of the United Jihad Council, which is supported by the Pakistani military and the ISI. LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed are members of the United Jihad Council. In the past, Salahuddin has admitted that the Pakistani military allows him to run “hundreds of training camps in the state where we recruit and train the mujahideen.”
When the US listed Hizbul Mujahideen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and its emir as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in Aug. 2017, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs objected. In its official protest, the ministry had the nerve to state that Pakistan “has a demonstrated and longstanding commitment of combating terrorism.”
Salahaddin also remains a free man in Pakistan, and HM is untouchable.
Another terrorist group that operates openly inside Pakistan is Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). It has been listed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The group’s emir, Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, is also a specially designated global terrorist by the US. He lives in Islamabad with the knowledge of the Pakistani government. In an update to the US designation of HuM in 2014, the US noted that it “operates in Pakistan, and engages in terrorist activity in Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan” and “also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan.” These camps are believed to still be in existence to this day.
Khalil “has maintained a close relationship with al Qaeda, including with Osama bin Laden prior to his death,” Treasury noted in its designation of Khalil. He “visited al-Qaida training camps” and “sent Pakistani militants to support OBL’s operatives in Somalia and OBL sent funds to unidentified Pakistan-based individuals via Khalil prior to September 2001.”
Khalil is the man Osama bin Laden consulted before issuing his infamous fatwa declaring war against the US in 1998. According to the Associated Press, Khalil has “dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia,” and “was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”
HuM has been involved in numerous terrorist attacks in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian airliner, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Khalil also remains a free man in Pakistan, and HuM is a valued tool of Pakistani foreign policy.
Thousands of more words could be written about Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban, which includes the Haqqani Network. Pakistani officials not only harbor but actively protect the so-called “Good Taliban” because the bulk of their terrorist activity is conducted outside of Pakistan.
The root of the Afghan Taliban’s web of recruiting centers, madrassas, training camps, bases, and other key infrastructure begins in Baluchistan province in the southwest and branches out to the tribal areas, and up into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the northwest. Without support from the Pakistani state, the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan would be a shadow of itself.
Pakistan does not arrest the hundreds of top level Taliban leaders who operate inside its borders, nor has it dismantled the Taliban’s sprawling infrastructure that is embedded throughout the country. Pakistan does keep tabs on so-called “Bad Taliban” jihadist groups that attack the Pakistani state, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic State.
General Bajwa and Pakistani officials can bloviate all they like about how their country has eliminated terrorism and no longer permit terrorists to use its soil to attack another country. A look at the facts tells another story, and that is one of Pakistani duplicity.
President Trump has vowed to take a tougher stance against Pakistan. But US military commanders, perhaps in an effort to keep peace with the Pakistani establishment and pursue “a positive path forward,” are acutely aware of Bajwa’s mistruths, yet remain curiously silent.