Pakistan’s Possible Links to Terrorist OrganizationsJanuary 16, 2015 in Pakistan
Since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014, Pakistan’s efforts to combat militant groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have somewhat revived Washington’s flagging confidence in Islamabad and have led to greater levels of cooperation between the two countries. However, a statement made on January 13, 2015 by U.S Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference in Islamabad suggests that America still believes Pakistan is playing a “double game”; that it is continuing to use terrorist groups to advance its own foreign policy interests. After being questioned by a reporter about Pakistan’s willingness to target groups like the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e Tayyiba Secretary Kerry said: “we’ve been very clear with the highest levels of the Government of Pakistan that Pakistan has to target all militant groups, the Haqqani Network and others…And Pakistan has made it very clear that they intend to do so.” While it is as yet too early to say whether or not Pakistan will remain committed to the war on terror, one thing is clear: Pakistan’s strategic interests in Afghanistan and India will be difficult to promote if they are forced to sever ties with all the militant groups currently residing within their borders.
Ample evidence of Pakistan’s dealings with terrorist groups has emerged over the past decade. In 2006, a leaked British Defence Ministry Report claimed that “Indirectly Pakistan (through the [Inter-Services Agency]) has been supporting terrorism and extremism.” In a 2009 interview, U.S Defence Secretary Robert Gates accused Pakistan of “playing both sides”, claiming that they use groups like the Taliban to ensure that they will have leverage in Afghanistan once the U.S leaves. This explains why Pakistan has not received certification from the State Department for having met the requirements of the Kerry-Lugar Bill (in which authorisation for appropriation of funds requires, amongst other things, evidence of a “sustained commitment…towards combatting terrorist groups”) since 2011. Progress has been made, State Department officials claim, but not enough.
As far as Islamabad is concerned, to the extent that terrorist groups have helped advance Pakistan’s goals, they have served a useful purpose. But the cost of entering into a Faustian pact with them has been immense. It has resulted in the emergence of factions and splinter groups who attack Pakistanis and push Islamabad into conflicts which have the potential to undermine their security at home and their strategic interests abroad.
Two incidents in particular are responsible for the vigour with which the Pakistani army is currently waging war against militant groups. The first occurred on June 8, 2014, when ten members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a TTP affiliate, launched an attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, killing twenty six people and wounding eighteen. In the days following this attack, the Pakistani military launched a series of attacks which culminated in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a comprehensive military offensive which is being waged against militant groups in North Waziristan. So far, the campaign has brought about the deaths of more than 1,100 militants and dramatically reduced the operational capabilities of groups fighting in the area. It has also demonstrated an increased willingness on Islamabad’s part to hunt down groups which it is alleged to have supported. When Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif visited Washington in November 2014, he was praised by the Pentagon for having targeted the Haqqani Network, which both the U.S and Afghan governments have accused Pakistan of protecting in the past.
The second incident took place on December 16, 2014, when nine members of the TTP entered a school in Peshawar and killed 145 people, 132 of whom were children. It was, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, a “decisive moment”, and one in which should cause Pakistanis to unite against a common enemy. In the days following the attack Pakistan’s military, intelligence and police forces launched successive punitive strikes against militants, resulting in numerous deaths including TTP commander Abid Muchar. It is significant that after the attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister said that there would no longer be any distinction drawn between “good Taliban and bad Taliban”; a tacit acknowledgement of the patronage which Pakistan had formerly bestowed upon terrorist groups.
After the massacre in Peshawar, there was an outpouring of grief across the country. The Pakistan People’s Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced a three day period of mourning, while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam declared that scheduled protests would be postponed, out of respect for the deceased and their families. In Islamabad, protestors gathered outside the Red Mosque when a hard-line Islamic cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz refused to condemn the attack. For now, it seems as though Pakistan has been united against terror. Whether or not this state continues will, as Secretary Kerry said, be determined by the actions by the government “over the coming weeks.” But in order to ensure that Pakistan remains committed to the fight against terror two things must happen: first, its security services must stop using terrorist groups as proxies and second, its leadership must rethink its ambitions in Afghanistan and India. Until then, the situation in Pakistan and its relationship with the United States seems unlikely to change.