Cloaks and Daggers: Pakistans Alliance with Islamic Extremism
Pakistan has often maintained its aversion towards Islamic extremism in the public eye, claiming to suppress the Taliban and Al-Qaeda within its own borders while presenting itself as a valuable asset in the fight against violent jihad. Yet, the Wests duplicitous ally in the War on Terror has repeatedly aided a number of terrorist groups in Pakistan, in neighbouring Afghanistan, and further afield to advance its strategic interests in central Asia.
Following the Cold War, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI), maintained relations with a number of militant groups now defined as terrorists by the West, who not only murder Pakistanis at will, but also attempt to establish fascistic interpretations of Islamic doctrine, both within Pakistan and the surrounding region. Despite demands from Washington and the West to severe ties with these groups, Islamabad has remained translucent and uncooperative.
In light of this, Pakistan pursues a policy of ‘strategic depth’. By supporting the Afghan Taliban and other like-minded groups, Islamabad endeavours to secure a Pakistani-friendly government in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, in its quest to assert its dominance over India, Pakistan has altered its methods to undermine its regional foe. Both India and Pakistan have been in a state conflict since their partition in 1947. Each succeeding war in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999 have all been initiated and lost by Pakistan. With a population of 182 million, Pakistan simply does not have enough man power to counter a country as large as India, numbering 1.25 billion. As a result, Islamabad has altered its strategic methods, favouring to use Afghanistan as a training ground for jihadist groups to launch attacks on Indian-occupied Kashmir while conducting further attacks within India itself.
So much so that following 9/11, then Secretary of State Colm Powell established a list of seven demands for Pakistan to break relations with its militant allies and aid the US campaign against Al-Qaeda and violent jihadism. Alas, Islamabad failed to meet these demands, even so much as actively avoiding them. Firstly, the White House demands that Pakistan arrest AQ operatives within its borders and end all logistical support for such groups. Despite this, Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups, still operate with extreme prejudice within Pakistan, under very little pressure from Islamabad.
The US also demanded the ISI provide Washington with intelligence on such groups. While this lead to the capture of 9/11 architect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba (an Islamic extremist group centred around Pakistan responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks), Hafiz Saeed, was not apprehended by Pakistani security forces. While he finally was arrested in July 2019, after Pakistan faced threats of being placed on the ‘grey list’ (limiting its globals transactions) FDD’s Long War Journal predicts he will be released imminently. In fact, Saeed liaises with a number of Pakistani political officials as well as leaving jail on multiple occasions with permission from the Pakistani government.
Washington particularly opposes Pakistans intense alliance with the Afghan Taliban. In fact, the Afghan Taliban’s alliance with Islamabad remains a foundational pillar of its power in the region. While the US has demanded Pakistan severe all ties and cooperation with them, the ISI and Pakistani officials remain close with the insurgents. To this end, Pakistan aims to extend its influence in Afghanistan, propelling its agenda against India in Kashmir.
However, Pakistan does not support support the Taliban unilaterally. Islamabad hunts a number of factions under the Taliban regarded as the ‘Bad’ Taliban by Pakistani officials. While operating under the broader directive of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a number of groups actively seek to topple the Pakistani state. These groups include, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
However, while Pakistan cooperates in suppressing these insurgents, the ISI actively supports and bolsters a number of militants under the umbrella of the ‘Good’ Taliban, which aid Islamabad’s strategic motives beyond Pakistani borders.
One such group, one which the ISI is particularly close with, is the Haqqani network. Formed in 1980 by Jalaluddin Haqqani, this guerrilla insurgency is responsible for a number of attacks within Afghanistan. In 2011, the Haqqani network coordinated an assault on a hotel in Kabul. To make matters more concerning, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security claimed the assault was conducted from Pakistan itself. Despite maintaining a strong relationship with Al-Qaeda, Pakistani intelligence has made almost no progress to apprehend Haqqani militants within its borders. Evidently, to consolidate its objections in Afghanistan, the Pakistani state chooses to support jihadist groups hell-bent on establishing a fascistic caliphate.
Pakistan explores multiple avenues to advance its objectives and undermine its adversaries. To this end, the ISI reinforces the Mullah Nazir Group (MNG). Closely, aligned with Al-Qaeda, MNG supports the Talibans objective of establishing sharia law in Afghanistan. As a result, MNG has targeted western forces on numerous occasions, an act to which Pakistan is directly complicit in. In other words, Islamabad is quite willing to support violent jihadism in central Asia.
In light of this, and focusing on Pakistans resentment towards its foe, India, the ISI developed a close relationship with the jihadist group, Lashkar-e Taiba (LT). Founded by Hafiz Saeed coupled with the aid of Osama bin-Laden and jihadist ideologue Abdullah Azzam, LT largely operates in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Paktia provinces. LT has launched a number of attacks both in Afghanistan and nearby India. As mentioned above, over the course of three days, LT conducted a number of attacks in Mumbai in 2008, simultaneously attacking a theatre, train station, hotels, and a Jewish centre, killing 164 people in total. On a sinister note, during the attacks, Indian intelligence traced phone calls to senior Pakistani army officers.
Evidence suggests the ISI also provides support for the jihadist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JM). Similarly to LT, Pakistans support for JM stems from the latters hostility towards India. Indeed, along with LT, JM was implicated in the attacks on the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi on 13th December, 2001. Indian officials discovered JM was behind the January 2016 attacks on Pathankot Air Force Base in India. Similarly, Indian intelligence traced phone calls to Pakistan-based handlers directing the assault. Pakistan is unashamedly supporting a multitude of militant groups to undermine its enemies.
Pakistans hatred for India explains its similar relationship with Harakat-ul-Muhjahideen (HM), another likeminded jihadist insurgency under the umbrella of the ‘Good’ Taliban. Designated a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by Washington, its emir, Fazle-ur-Rahman dispatched a number of militants to India, as well as Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya, and Bosnia. Indeed, in 2014, the US stressed that HM operations in Indian occupied Kashmir are coordinated from Pakistan.
Despite condemning violent Islamic-fundamentalism on the world stage, Pakistan actively assists jihadism to project its political power across central Asia. In 2015, the US State Department concluded in the Country Reports of Terrorism that Pakistan is unwilling to target militant groups which train, organise, and fundraise within its borders. Categorically, this is not to say the Pakistani public condone or are complicit in supporting transnational jihadism. However, there is a concerted attempt within the Pakistani government to topple India by any means necessary. This includes supporting a plethora of extremist militants and insurgencies determined to eliminate anyone who does not submit to their ideology. As a result, the Pakistani government is not only directly complicit in the murder of its own citizens, but also those in Afghanistan, and India who suffer at the draconian hands of violent jihad.
By Daniel Mountain