Pakistan’s hand in the rise of international jihad

Published: February 8, 2016
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The funeral of Saeed Jawad Hossini, 29, who was killed in a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul in January. PHOTO: AFP

The funeral of Saeed Jawad Hossini, 29, who was killed in a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul in January. PHOTO: AFP

TUNIS: President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has warned in several recent interviews that unless peace talks with Pakistan and the Taliban produce results in the next few months, his country may not survive 2016. Afghanistan is barely standing, he says, after the Taliban onslaught last year, which led to the highest casualties among civilians and security forces since 2001.

“How much worse will it get?” Mr. Ghani asked in a recent television interview. “It depends on how much regional cooperation we can secure, and how much international mediation and pressure can be exerted to create rules of the game between states.”

Afghanistan, Pakistan to revive dormant ISI-NDS deal

What he means is it depends on how much international pressure can be brought to bear on Pakistan to cease its aggression.

Critics of the Afghan leadership say it’s not Pakistan’s fault that its neighbour is falling apart. They point to the many internal failings of the Afghan government: political divisions, weak institutions, warlords and corruption.

But experts have found a lot of evidence that Pakistan facilitated the Taliban offensive. The United States and China have been asking Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to make peace, but Afghanistan argues that Islamabad has done nothing to rein in the Taliban, and if anything has encouraged it to raise the stakes in hopes of gaining influence in any power-sharing agreement.

This behaviour is not just an issue for Afghanistan. Pakistan is intervening in a number of foreign conflicts. Its intelligence service has long acted as the manager of international mujahedeen forces, many of them Sunni extremists, and there is even speculation that it may have been involved in the rise of the Islamic State.

The latest Taliban offensive began in 2014. United States and Nato forces were winding down their operations in Afghanistan and preparing to withdraw when Pakistan decided, after years of prevarication, to clear Taliban and al Qaeda fighters from their sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal area of North Waziristan.

The operation was certainly a serious endeavour — Taliban bases, torture chambers and ammunition dumps were busted, town bazaars were razed and over one million civilians were displaced.

But the militants were tipped off early, and hundreds escaped, tribesmen and Taliban fighters said. Many fled over the border to Afghanistan, just at the vulnerable moment when Afghanistan was assuming responsibility for its own security. Ninety foreign fighters with their families arrived in Paktika Province that summer, to the alarm of Afghan officials.

Further along the border in Paktika Province, Taliban fighters occupied abandoned CIA bases and outposts. A legislator from the region warned me that they would use the positions to project attacks deeper into Afghanistan and even up to Kabul. Some of the most devastating suicide bomb attacks occurred in that province in the months that followed.

Mullah Omar’s family rejects new Taliban supremo

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Haqqani network, the most potent branch of the Taliban, moved from North Waziristan into the adjacent district of Kurram. From there it continues to enjoy safe haven and conduct its insurgency against American, international and Afghan targets.

Pakistan regards Afghanistan as its backyard. Determined not to let its archrival, India, gain influence there, and to ensure that Afghanistan remains in the Sunni militant camp, Pakistan has used the Taliban selectively, promoting those who further its agenda and cracking down on those who don’t. The same goes for al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.

Even knowing this, it might come as a surprise that the region’s triumvirate of violent militancy is living openly in Pakistan.

First, there’s Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, and second in command of the Taliban.

Then there is the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, who has openly assembled meetings of his military and leadership council near the Pakistani town of Quetta. Since he came to power last year, the Taliban has mounted some of its most ambitious offensives into Afghanistan, overrunning the northern town of Kunduz, and pushing to seize control of the opium-rich province of Helmand.

Finally, al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan — one recent report placed him in the southwestern corner of Baluchistan. He has been working to establish training camps in southern Afghanistan. In October, it took United States Special Operations forces several days of fighting and airstrikes to clear those camps. American commanders say the group they were fighting was al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a new franchise announced by Mr. Zawahri that has claimed responsibility for the killings of bloggers and activists in Karachi and Bangladesh, among other attacks.

Pakistan denies harboring the Taliban and al Qaeda, and points out that it, too, is a victim of terrorism. But many analysts have detailed how the military has nurtured militant groups as an instrument to suppress nationalist movements, in particular among the Pashtun minority, at home and abroad.

Perhaps most troubling, there are reports that Pakistan had a role in the rise of the Islamic State.

Ahead of Pakistan’s 2014 operation in North Waziristan, scores, even hundreds, of foreign fighters left the tribal areas to fight against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Tribesmen and Taliban members from the area say fighters traveled to Quetta, and then flew to Qatar. There they received new passports and passage to Turkey, from where they could cross into Syria. Others traveled overland along well-worn smuggling routes from Pakistan through Iran and Iraq.

The fighters arrived just in time to boost the sweeping offensive by Islamic State into Iraq and the creation of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014.

If these accounts are correct, Pakistan was cooperating with Qatar, and perhaps others, to move international Sunni militants (including 300 Pakistanis) from Pakistan’s tribal areas, where they were no longer needed, to new battlefields in Syria. It is just another reminder of Pakistan’s central involvement in creating and managing violent militant groups, one Pakistani politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity when talking about intelligence affairs, told me.

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This has been going on for more than 30 years. In 1990, I shared a bus ride with young Chinese Uighurs, Muslims from China’s restive northwest, who had spent months training in Pakistani madrasas, including a brief foray into Afghanistan to get a taste of battle. They were returning home, furnished with brand-new Pakistani passports, a gift of citizenship often offered to those who join the jihad.

Years later, just after Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan, I interviewed a guerrilla commander from the disputed region of Kashmir who had spent 15 years on the Pakistani military payroll, traveling to train and assist insurgents in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

In 2012 I came across several cases where young clerics, fresh graduates from the Haqqania madrasa in Pakistan, returned to their home villages in Afghanistan, flush with cash, and set about running mosques and recruiting and organising a band of Taliban followers.

I visited that madrasa in 2013. It is the alma mater of the Afghan Taliban, where many of the leaders of the movement were trained. The clerics there remained adamant in their support for the Taliban. “It is a political fact that one day the Taliban will take power,” Syed Yousuf Shah, the madrasa spokesperson, told me. “We are experts on the Taliban,” he said, and a majority of the Afghan people “still support them.”

The madrasa, a longtime instrument of Pakistani intelligence, has been training people from the ethnic minorities of northern Afghanistan alongside its standard clientele of Pashtuns. The aim is still to win control of northern Afghanistan through these young graduates. From there they have their eyes on Central Asia and western China. Pakistani clerics are educating and radicalising Chinese Uighurs as well, along with Central Asians from the former Soviet republics.

No one has held Pakistan to account for this behavior. Why would Pakistan give it up now?

Carlotta Gall is the author of “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014” and currently the North Africa correspondent for The New York Times.

This article originally appeared on The International New York Times, a global partner of The Express Tribune.

Reader Comments (24)

  • Mayuresh
    Feb 8, 2016 - 2:43PM

    Commendable that Tribune decided to post this article inside Pakistan. Is it really readable from inside the country? Anybody’s guess where the focus of world powers will turn to once Iran deal is executed and (hopefully) sets a precedent.Recommend

  • Aakashvaani
    Feb 8, 2016 - 3:06PM

    Pakistan can’t find proof of terrorist attacks. No wonder why.Recommend

  • sami
    Feb 8, 2016 - 6:22PM

    Only an American can have such an ignorant and naive view of things. Shameful in one word! Recommend

  • feedback
    Feb 8, 2016 - 7:20PM

    Truth at last!Recommend

  • ghazal
    Feb 8, 2016 - 7:54PM

    @sami:
    is it only america , think again . your opinion is against 95% of worldRecommend

  • Striver
    Feb 8, 2016 - 7:59PM

    This article is a repetition of old accusations, nothing more.

    President Ashraf Ghani’s comment is wide in scope but quite straight forward:
    ““How much worse will it get?” Mr. Ghani asked in a recent television interview. “It depends on how much regional cooperation we can secure, and how much international mediation and pressure can be exerted to create rules of the game between states.”

    But check how this western “expert” has construed it:

    “What he means is it depends on how much international pressure can be brought to bear on Pakistan to cease its aggression.”

    He does not blame any one but Pakistan. So whats new?

    If you are writing something with an agenda then you are not an “expert” but a propagandist. Recommend

  • curious2
    Feb 8, 2016 - 8:58PM

    “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014” is an interesting book – doesn’t portray Pakistan or American Establishment in a good light. Definitely a different view of Pakistan than one portrayed by Pakistan media.Recommend

  • NHA
    Feb 9, 2016 - 12:01AM

    First, if Pakistan Mil establishment were that strong then better fear it.

    Second, what US + Nato were doing there in Afghanistan for 8 years. They spent almost 800 billion yet could not give this damned country a working government.

    And now blaming Pakistan, sitting in Washington think tanks and fed by spurious Indian researchers and so-called scholars, for all ills is preposterous.

    One thing is very clear.No other country will come and fix it. Afghanistan has to do this job itself. Why nations fail, becuase of leadership failures who adopt wrong policies.

    Hamid Karzai is to blame for this colossal failure. Recommend

  • mazhar
    Feb 9, 2016 - 12:02AM

    an article with jealousy and prejudice… better for pak to actively n overtly support naxal and all other movs in india…Recommend

  • abdullah
    Feb 9, 2016 - 12:10AM

    @mayuresh.yes it is readable.its not india that it will get bloacked.here we have freedom.Recommend

  • Saleem
    Feb 9, 2016 - 12:22AM

    It is easiest thing to blame one’s own failure on others. But let’s suppose that what Carlotta Gall is saying is all true and Pakistan did not live up to its words. Then what about America? Did it live up to its words? TTP leadership was residing in Afghanistan for years and despite all its might and resources US couldn’t eliminate it? I would like Carlotta to reply that rather than writing about hearsays.

    While Americans were doling money to it, then Afghan President, Hamid Karzai’s and his brother, was taking that money by plane loads to UAE. That money never trickled down nor was used by its intended purposes. Today in Afghanistan, there is a complete failure of institution and no wonder Taliban are about to run over Kabul government. What Carlotta has to say about that?

    One may blame Pakistan for everything but reality is that Afghanistan turned out to be another Vietnam for America. I yet have to see someone writing about that “Vietnam” and accepting the fact that thousands of American men and women died for no reason. Was it Pakistan’s fault?Recommend

  • usman786
    Feb 9, 2016 - 1:53AM

    wow 300 taliban formed ISIS. must be of high ranks there? if a Chinese is going back on fresh Pak passport, can he be recognized? surprised that 47 countries NATO could not kill Taliban inside Afg…. God is greatRecommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Feb 9, 2016 - 2:29AM

    @NHA:
    FYI, please note that Pakistan continued to openly provide material support and safe havens in FATA for its beloved “Good Taliban” assets during those 8 plus years you talk about!
    The world well knows Pakistan’s role in creating and supporting terrorist proxies over the last few decades to pursue its “Strategic Depth” policies!Recommend

  • Shehzad
    Feb 9, 2016 - 3:06AM

    For me one thing is very much disturbing, ignoring the history so shamefully by everyone around. Weren’t these the same Taliban leaders who enjoyed breakfast in White-house with Reagan and about whom Charlie Wilson so proudly said, “I wish we had these Mujs in Nam”? It should not be hard to understand that for every state her own interest and security is a priority. This was a mess created by the Capitalist bloc and then left as it was as they were not sharing a 2250km long boarder with a chaos. I don’t think Pakistan is some ‘Psycho State’ which enjoys interfering in others’ business for pleasure. Recommend

  • Sharath Chandra
    Feb 9, 2016 - 5:22AM

    Pakistan is a Physco state,Recommend

  • Aamir - Toronto
    Feb 9, 2016 - 7:26AM

    @Aakashvaani….Pot calling the kettle black !!!

    @Sharath Chandra…..And what about, world’s cesspool !!! Recommend

  • 12 Step Pakistan
    Feb 9, 2016 - 8:45AM

    (1) We have no idea what you are talking about.
    (2) Well, OK, we know what you mean but we have nothing to do with it.
    (3) Your proof is not enough, give us more proof.
    (4) They may be from here, but we did not know about it.
    (5) Liberate Kashmir
    (6) We are the guardians of Islam.
    (7) We have nukes you know.
    (8) Give us aid or we will collapse.
    (9) We are a sovereign nation, you know.
    (10) Trade not aid. You heard me wrong
    (11) Make India negotiate.
    (12) The judge let them off. We have laws too, you know. Recommend

  • Apoorv Swarup
    Feb 9, 2016 - 8:47AM

    @abdullah Might I remind you that India has one of the highest amounts of press freedom (which the press often abuse as well). It was unfortunately this very paper which had to display blank pages on the NY Time sin order to block out an earlier article! hope this article did find its way in the print form on both the tribune and the NY times circulated in PakistanRecommend

  • Zen
    Feb 9, 2016 - 11:01AM

    @Saleem:
    The establishment is receiving hundreds of millions against CSF from America to kill your ‘snakes’. No ‘snakes’ are killed. What happened to all that money. Dubai?Recommend

  • NHA
    Feb 9, 2016 - 12:17PM

    @Apoorv Swarup: @Zen.

    Very soon American security and foreign policy establishment will realise what India & Indian scholars and so-called researchers have done to it.

    It is all disaster around in South Asia , and most of it is caused by Indian chicanery. Most of the countries here are sophisticated nations who want to live in harmony except Indians who have this pipe dream of dominating the region.

    Keep trying. Recommend

  • ali
    Feb 9, 2016 - 3:38PM

    We should get all newspaper banned who publish antipakistanRecommend

  • Feb 9, 2016 - 10:44PM

    It is indeed ironic, that whenever the Taliban’s strike them (US/NATO) where it hurts,they start pointing fingers at Pakistan…Someone must ask them,if ISI is responsible for attacks on them (Which is not true),then is it alright to accuse, CIA to be behind the uncountable terrorist attacks in Pakistan ?

    If viewed pragmatically, the phobic focus on the Haqqani group doesn’t sound to be correct!…They had 150,000 of their ISAF troops,same amount of highly skilled Private Military Contractors and a equal number of Afghan army and security personnel’s stationed in Afghanistan…Then why couldn’t they themselves ensure that no cross border infiltration takes place ?Recommend

  • Feb 9, 2016 - 10:51PM

    I guess it all depends on whose feet the shoes are on in this case….

    The Afghan Taliban’s are part of the same Mujaheddin force,who the US,with the help of Pakistan, Saudis and others created as a force to launch a Jihad against the USSR forces in occupation of Afghanistan and drive them away.Today,it is the US/NATO in the same position that the former USSR was,in a way wearing the same shoe that they did and battling against the same force they created in the name of Jihad.The same friends Hero’s of yesterday for the US are today Fiends and Zero ?. The answer is simple,the shoe doesn’t fit it pinches!

    Invade, and occupy forcibly a sovereign country, after toppling its government and kill their innocent civilian, men,women and children , in night raids and drone attacks. Then expect no retaliation as a consequence, from the ousted regime members and the victims heirs that they would not even say, OUCH !

    Appears to be a very naive way of thinking.Have they no realization that they are into war with the Afghan freedom fighters and they would hit them whenever they get the opportunity…So,why blame Pakistan for that ? Recommend

  • Trollslayer
    Feb 10, 2016 - 4:23PM

    @12 Step Pakistani

    Brilliant post. The rest want to close their eyes to Jihad Inc and the $ billions disbursed to the military-mullah nexus, which feeds the hatcheries of jihadists. Recommend

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