New evidence emerged this week that should cause the international community to second-guess Pakistan's dedication to combating terrorism. Despite repeated assurances, including one this week by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, that the country will do all that it can to fight extremism, Pakistan continues to maintain close ties with terrorist groups.
The Pakistani government, directly and through its Inter-Services Intelligence agency, has been integral to both the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) since the founding of the two militant groups. Whereas LeT was established to fight a proxy war with India in Kashmir, the Taliban was formed to prevent India from gaining a strategic foothold in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1990s.
A recently released report by the United Nations details the continued support for the militants that has remained an open secret since then:
"The Pakistani military organized and supported the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan in 1996. Similar tactics were used in Kashmir against India after 1989….The Pakistani military and ISI also used and supported some of these groups in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has close ties with the ISI."
And despite its claims to be combating terrorism, a number of recent reports detail the continuing connections between the Pakistani government and both the Taliban and LeT.
First, this week the London School of Economics released a study by Matt Waldman entitled The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan's ISI and Afghan Insurgents. Among the report's conclusions, based upon interviews with captured insurgents and counterterrorism officials:
"[A]s the provider of sanctuary, and very substantial financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency, the ISI appears to have strong strategic and operational influence—reinforced by coercion. There is thus a strong case that the ISI and elements of the military are deeply involved in the insurgent campaign, and have powerful influence over the Haqqani network."
Official documents obtained by Indian press revealed that the government of Pakistan's Punjab province provided approximately $1 million dollars to Jamaat-ud-Dawah and its institutions during the past year despite the group's status as a front for LeT.
Moreover, interviews with Pakistani American terrorist David Coleman Headley confirmed that LeT carried out the Mumbai attack under the guidance of Pakistan's ISI. He identified a number of officers serving in the Pakistani Army—Major Smeer Ali, Major Iqbal, and Major Haroon—as those who collaborated with the Lashkar terrorists, and claimed that the ISI was engaged in the activities at "each and every stage of the plot."
Both the Taliban and LeT deny the allegations of support from the Pakistanis. JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid claimed his organization had not received any money from the provincial government:
"We are a welfare organization and raise our own funds from the public for providing educational and healthcare services to help the people."
Issuing a more forceful rebuke, a statement released on its website, the Voice of Jihad, the Afghan Taliban described the study as "a merely baseless propaganda launched to promote British and American interests." It continued:
"Rulers of the government of Pakistan claim that they are the frontline pioneers of the American ignited war. They have not spared to do whatever was in their capacity to do. Hence, it is not rationale to say that they are supporting the jihad and resistance against the Americans in Afghanistan. Had Pakistan supported the Mujahiden, then manifestations and impact of their support would have categorically become visible."
Despite these denials, the evidence speaks for itself.
Since 2001, the United States has provided Pakistan with at least $7 billion for the costs of fighting terrorism and trained almost 400 Pakistani Army officers, but in Waldman's words, "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude."