Pakistan a ‘safe haven’ for ‘terror groups’: U.S. State Department

Pakistan remains a “safe haven” for a host of regional terror groups, including the Afghan Taliban and its integral subgroup, the Al Qaeda linked Haqqani Network, according the the State Department’s newly released Country Reports on Terrorism 2019.

“Pakistan continued to serve as a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups,” State notes in its opening paragraph on Pakistan.  “It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN [Haqqani Network], as well as groups targeting India, including LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa] and its affiliated front organizations, and JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammad], to operate from its territory.”

After noting that Pakistan has taken “modest steps in 2019 to counter terror financing and to restrain some India-focused militant groups,” State criticizes Pakistan for failing “to take decisive actions against Indian- and Afghanistan-focused militants who would undermine their operational capability.”

State also blasts Pakistan for harboring wanted terrorists, including JeM emir Masood Azhar and LeT commander Sajid Mir, who was a mastermind of the Nov. 2008 terror assault on Mumbai India.

Azhar and Mir “are widely believed to reside in Pakistan under the protection of the state, despite government denials,” the report states.

Ironically, State praises the Pakistani government for playing “a constructive role in U.S.-Taliban talks in 2019.”

In other words, State is slamming Pakistan for continuing to harbor the Taliban and allied terrorists, who continue to attack the Afghan government and military as well as remaining allied with Al Qaeda, while praising Pakistan as a partner for peace.

“In 2019, the Taliban and the affiliated HQN [Haqqani Network] increased terrorist attacks targeting Afghan civilians, government officials, and members of the international community,” the Country Reports on Terrorism 2019 section on Afghanistan notes. This trend has continued in 2020, despite the U.S. and the Taliban signing what is wrongly characterized as a peace deal.

The deal, which was signed on Feb. 29, 2020, is in fact a withdrawal agreement that is heavily weighted to benefit the Taliban. The U.S. and the Taliban agreed to halt attacks on each other. The U.S. committed to a full withdrawal in 14 months, removing Taliban leaders from international sanctions lists, and forcing the Afghan government to conduct a lopsided prisoner exchange.

The Taliban made no concessions. It is not required to denounce and target Al Qaeda and other allied terror groups, commit to a ceasefire, negotiate with the Afghan government, or protect key social reforms such as women’s rights. Instead the Taliban said it would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launchpad for attacks on the West. This is the same promise the Taliban made prior to 9/11, which it of course did not honor.

Pakistan supported the U.S.-Taliban talks and continues to back the withdrawal deal as it benefits its Afghan proxy, the Taliban.

“India-focused militant groups” fight in Afghanistan

While State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2019 rightly calls out Pakistan for remaining a safe haven for terror groups, it wrongly classifies LeT and JeM as “India-focused militant groups.” Additionally, it is wrong to call these outfits “regionally focused” and “India-focused”, as they support Al Qaeda and its global jihad.

LeT, JeM, and groups such as Harakat-ul-Muhahideen, and Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami not only operate against India, but also fight alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. These groups were created with the support of Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and continue to base themselves inside Pakistan with the assistance of the government to this day.

State notes that Pakistan worked to “restrain some India-focused militant groups” after a suicide car bombing in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that killed more than 40 policemen. That attack was carried out by JeM.

Pakistan has the ability to dial up and tamp down the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. It does this by using Afghanistan as a relief valve. Fighters from the Pakistan-backed terror groups redeploy from the Indian to the Afghan front when international pressure due to their attacks in India creates problems for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s dampening of the operations of terror groups in the Indian theater leads to an increase in attacks by these groups in Afghanistan. This is in direct contradiction to statements made by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, who praised Pakistan as a partner for peace that “committed to helping reduce violence” in Afghanistan.

Less that three years prior to making that statement, Khalilzad, Congressional testimony, called Pakistan “a State Sponsor of Terror.”

If Pakistan was indeed “committed to helping reduce violence” in Afghanistan, as Khalilzad claimed, it would dismantle the infrastructure of the Taliban, LeT, JeM, and the host of allied terror group that continue to base themselves inside Pakistan. Instead, Pakistan continues to not only provide safe haven for these groups, but directly backs them.

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

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