Pakistan continues to harbor Taliban, including al Qaeda-linked Haqqanis

A message from Siraj Haqqani was included in a Dec. 2016 Taliban video celebrating the group’s alliance with al Qaeda.

Pakistan continues to allow the Taliban, including the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, to operate on its soil, despite pressure from the US government. That is one of the conclusions drawn in the State Department’s newly released Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.

“The Pakistani government pledged support to political reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban but did not restrict the Afghan Taliban and HQN [Haqqani Network] from operating in Pakistan-based safe havens and threatening U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan,” the report reads.

The Trump administration has attempted to pressure Pakistan into changing its longstanding policy. During a speech on Aug. 21, 2017, President Trump announced his plan for the war in Afghanistan. One “pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan,” Trump said. “We 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.”

“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan,” Trump said. “It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.” He blasted Pakistan for “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” and harboring “militants and terrorists who target U.S. servicemembers and officials,” even as the Pakistani government received American aid.

According to the State Department’s new report, the Trump administration followed through on the president’s warning. “From August to December 2017, the Trump Administration placed a pause on spending new Foreign Military Financing for Pakistan, holding these funds until Pakistan addressed key U.S. concerns, including the threat posed by the Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups that enjoyed safe haven with Pakistan,” the report reads.

Approximately $512.4 million in aid for Pakistan was appropriated for 2017, and $242.3 million of this was earmarked for “Foreign Military Financing.” Some portion of this was withheld during the latter half of 2017, though the report doesn’t make it clear how much.

However, nothing changed. “Pakistan did not adequately address these concerns in 2017,” Foggy Bottom found.

The Taliban continues to enjoy its Pakistani safe haven, from which some of the group’s most senior leaders direct the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan continued to experience aggressive and coordinated attacks by the Afghan Taliban, including the affiliated Haqqani Network (HQN) and other insurgent and terrorist groups,” the State Department found. “A number of these attacks were planned and launched from safe havens in Pakistan.”

State says that both “Afghan and Pakistani forces continued to contest AQ’s presence in the region,” explaining that “Pakistan’s military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) further degraded the group’s freedom to operate.”

The Pakistani military operations undoubtedly restricted al Qaeda’s ability to operate in northern Pakistan. But al Qaeda has operated elsewhere in Pakistan. Moreover, the group began relocating operatives from the FATA years ago. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that the al Qaeda founder ordered his men to relocate out of northern Pakistan in 2010, if not earlier.

President Obama also noted that al Qaeda relocated into Afghanistan as a result of the Pakistani military campaign. “Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan,” Obama said in an Oct. 15, 2015 speech, during which he announced that he would keep a residual American force in Afghanistan.

The Taliban-Haqqani-Al Qaeda axis

Pakistan’s ongoing sponsorship of the Haqqani Network (HQN), an integral part of the Taliban, likely benefits al Qaeda. Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 notes that “HQN’s founder Jalaluddin Haqqani established a relationship with Usama bin Laden in the mid-1980s, and joined the Taliban in 1995.” The Taliban recently announced Jalaluddin Haqqani’s death and al Qaeda was quick to eulogize him as Osama bin Laden’s “brother.”

“After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001,” State new report reminds readers, “Jalaluddin retreated to Pakistan where, under the leadership of Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group continued to direct and conduct terrorist activity in Afghanistan.”

Sirajuddin Haqqani was named the deputy emir of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in mid-2015. Osama bin Laden’s files reveal that al Qaeda was cooperating with Siraj and his men in operations inside Afghanistan in mid-2010. In Dec. 2016, the Taliban’s Manba al-Jihad Media outfit (which has long served the Haqqanis) released a video featuring an audio message from Siraj, as well as a senior al Qaeda ideologue. That same video celebrated the Taliban’s historical alliance with al Qaeda. And in its eulogy for Jalaluddin, al Qaeda’s general command lauded Siraj’s leadership role within the Taliban, saying it takes “solace in the fact” that Siraj is the deputy to the Taliban’s emir.

The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 notes that both the “Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan [the Pakistani Taliban] and the Haqqani Network…have ties to AQ.” The US government has also revealed significant connections between the Haqqani Network and al Qaeda in a series of terrorist designations. Haqqani facilitators who also assist al Qaeda are based in various areas of Pakistan, including Peshawar.

Pakistan has assisted the US in various counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda in the past. But that is not all there is to the story.

By granting the Haqqanis and other Taliban leaders safe haven, Pakistan is harboring some of al Qaeda’s most important allies in the region.

The UN recently reported that al Qaeda and the Taliban remain “closely allied” and their “alliance…remains firm.” Indeed, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s overall leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada. Although Akhundzada’s whereabouts is not widely known, his predecessor was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2016.

The Taliban, including the Haqqanis, is not the only jihadist group that is still supported by Pakistan. Although the government has cracked down on groups that attack the Pakistani state, other jihadists continue to enjoy freedom of movement — just as long as their terror is directed elsewhere.

The State Department’s report notes that although Pakistan says its policy is to “ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country,” this isn’t the case. According to Foggy Bottom, “several terrorist groups focused on attacks outside of the country continued to operate from Pakistani soil in 2017.” In addition to the Haqqani Network, these organizations include Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), both of which have targeted Indian interests in Kashmir and elsewhere. Historically, both the LeT and JeM have their own ties to al Qaeda.

“The government failed to significantly limit LeT and JeM from openly raising money, recruiting, and training in Pakistan – although Pakistan’s Elections Commission refused to allow a LeT‑affiliated group register as a political party,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 reads. “In November, a Pakistani court ordered the release of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.” Saeed is the longtime head of LeT and its various front groups. He praised Osama bin Laden as a “martyr” shortly after the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Despite Pakistan’s support for al Qaeda’s allies, the State Department reports that $344.6 million in aid has been requested for fiscal year 2018. This figure includes approximately $100 million in “Foreign Military Financing.” Although this is less than in past years, it is still a significant sum.

Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 also documents the heavy toll terrorism has taken inside Pakistan itself, as jihadi groups have attacked parts of the Pakistani state, as well as civilians. The Pakistani Taliban, which has its own ties to al Qaeda, and the Islamic State’s regional arm regularly launch operations inside the country.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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14 Comments

  • The Pakistanis have never been able to control the tribal areas, nor did the Brits for some 100 years before them, nor have we been able to control the Afghan side of this non-border so why have we been “pressuring” the Pak. Government for all these years into the present. I think the Pak. army has lost a lot of men in and around the tribal areas since it all started some 17 years ago.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    Put sanctions on this terrorist state and the Pakistanis will learn that there is a big price in supporting terrorists

  • Julian says:

    I would like to know how exactly are the Pakistani forces able to distinguish between al Qaeda operatives and Haqqani militants when they launch a military operation in remote areas of waziristan. It is not like every terrorist group is wearing their own logos Makin bit easy to tell them apart.

    There has to be more to this whole thing than the Pakistani unwilling to go after the Haqqanis when both al Qaeda and Haqqanis operate from the same tribal area. How come the al Qaeda operatives aren’t able to wear the Haqqanis logo and get a free pass?

  • David Thoenen says:

    Playing patty cake with the Pakistanis. Get serious, sanction them.

  • Sid Finster says:

    Everyone has known for years that Pakistan is playing both sides, but there isn’t much that the US can really do about it. Suppose the US stops going along with the charade, slaps sanctions on Pakistan. Pakistan responds by shutting down transit rights to Afghanistan.

    An American army is very logistics-dependent, and the only way to move the stuff in the volumes that an American army needs (think about fuel, for starters) is through Pakistan. Sure, you could airlift supplies for a little while, but that’s hella expensive, and the increased wear and tear on the airframes will catch up fast.

    Now what are you going to do, invade Pakistan, all so you can drive a logistics corridor all the way to Kabul and then to the back of beyond? You think that logistics corridor isn’t going to be even more vulnerable than present one is, not to mention a huge expenditure of money, resources and troops to open it up and keep it open? Like we don’t have enough in Afghanistan to keep us occupied already.

    Then there’s the political fallout in Pakistan itself to contend with. And that’s if we *don’t* do something foolhardy and invade. Then we’d have a grand time explaining that one to the American public, already sick of the Afghan war, how we need another bigger war this time to get out of the first one.

    Seriously, you think that the generals and State Department wonks have never thought of taking action against Pakistan before, and it was only your tough guy act that brought this bold vision out into the open?

    Like a lot of things in Afghanistan, the present situation is unworkable, but the alternatives are even worse, so the politicians and generals continue to put out happy-ass press releases and muddle along.

  • KW Greenwood says:

    Pakistan has never been part of the solution. Their secret police control the country and the politicians are just along for the ride giving the world lip service. This will only get worse and drag the west back into another war ala’ 9-11-2001.

  • charles says:

    Taliban are a recent phenomena that simply did not exist before 1980 (actually closer to 1990). They were created by US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan but were largely abandoned and neglected once the Soviets left, and US attention turned elsewhere.

    Pakistan has used Taliban and many other versions as violent tools of State, principally against India. Yes Pakistan does not completely control the NWFP or the Pashtuns on either side. But they rely entirely on Pakistan for their economic and military survival, lacking any ports or global air cargo terminals (such as Dubai for example).
    Until Pakistan sees violent Islamist groups as more of a liability and cost than an asset, this will go on and on regardless of what the US says, or does.

    • Actually the Taliban movement started as a very small movement started by a few mullahs that were fed up with the anarchy that was prevalent in Kandahar with some misbehaving warlords.

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    Research the linkage to Pak-Indian warfare centered upon Kashmir. The Pak armed forces are nigh-clinically paranoid about India outflanking them in Afghanistan. (Witness the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul a decade ago.) That is the reason for them considering the Haqqani Network to be “friendly”, when a mountain of evidence says it isn’t.

    Kashmir can be planted smack in Viceroy Mountbatten’s lap (preferably castrating his corpse in the process.) He holds primary responsibility for the extent of the massacres of Partition. He “encouraged” the ruler of Kashmir to sign with India, ordering in troops to make certain it happened. He was a great wartime commander, but India revealed an inner flaw. His is the stuff of classic Greek tragedy. His crypt should be opened, his coffin filled with urine and a match tossed in.

  • DEVENDRA SOOD says:

    If a country can be described as Sleazy; Pakistan is it. They are not only duplicitous and back stabbers; they bite the hand that feeds them. Stab the country that hugs them.

  • Cock Paul says:

    It is simple, tell them the USA will support India with anti-atomic misile installations, If Pakistan continues their treateres game.

  • Max says:

    As long as the US allows India to operate freely in Afghanistan there can be no genuine peace.

    It is a well documented fact that India has used the Afghan soil in the border region with Pakistan to destabilize Balochistan and other areas of Pakistan.

    The US can continue to ask Pakistan to do more, by this plea will fall on deaf ears. Pakistan will naturally not set it’s own house on fire to appease the Americans.

    Also remember that thecsame Haqqani’s were a CIA asset during the Cold War who fought the Russians.

  • Khadr Trudeau says:

    Why is the USA even there? We have Diego Garcia that should be enough. The sub continent has nothing the USA needs. Just ban all travel, no visa. Let the place turn into complete hell. Europe flooded with monsters. Build the wall.

  • Guest says:

    In the long analysis of Pakistan’s complicity in and sponsorship of terror activities, it seems no one is following the money. How are terrorists based out of barren villages in Pakistan’s badlands able to continuously acquire weapons and training to tackle organised armed forces in various neighbouring theatres – Afghanistan and J&K? Where’s the money coming from? It is surprising how the funding trail is completely ignored.

    The money trail, if inspected, I suspect, will lead to some of the most glittering, outlandish skyscrapers in the world standing on the pure sands of the Middle East. India, for one a perennial victim of terrorism, buys all her oil from countries which use the money to fund the attacks on her citizens and soldiery.

    It is amazing how Indian politicians have not considered this and taken forceful action. They are paying money dutifully to get their own people killed. Sanctioning Pakistan alone will really amount to nothing. Pakistan’s economy is not productive enough for her to self-generate funds required for constant militancy.

    It is clear that the funds come from elsewhere, much of it outside the purview of the tax authorities – so no accounting. And India’s payments to the Middle Eastern monarchies are not small change – they are India’s single biggest item on the imports list and singularly decide the fate of annual budgets.

    And the clue is in what Pakistan sees itself as in its own propaganda – the sword arm of Islam ie. doing the dirty work of Islamic clerics based out of various Middle Eastern countries. In this view, the Pakistanis themselves are convenient sheep to feed the jihadi meat-grinder and bear the full blowback of terrorist activities, while the fat sheikhs laugh, safely ensconced in their palaces. They don’t get it, or they know it but aren’t willing to acknowledge this.

    The Indian government should be working overtime to reduce her dependence on oil imports from the Middle East and diversifying the supplier pool to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, who have little to do with Islamist radicalism. They should also be going all-out to get other countries to move their oil requirements elsewhere.

    Once Indians are not dependent on Middle Eastern oil, then the terrorism she is a victim off will fade away. Peace in J&K lies not at the end of a barrel of a gun, but in the boring offices of accountants and trade negotiators.

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