On Pakistan’s Role in Encouraging Terrorism
On February 26, the Indian Armed Forces conducted a bombardment in Pakistani Kashmir. This bombing marked the first time that Indian warplanes had flown over the de-facto border between the two countries in nearly forty years. This bombardment was carried out in response to a terrorist attack in the Indian section of Kashmir earlier this month. In order to fully understand the domestic and international context behind this bombing, it is critical to examine the specific attack that caused it, and the broader, and the troubling relationship between the state of Pakistan and terrorism.
The specific attack occurred February 14, when twenty-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar drove a vehicle laden with explosives into a convoy carrying security personnel in Indian-administered Kashmir. The collision resulted in an explosion that killed forty security personnel and the attacker himself. The responsibility for this attack was immediately claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a terrorist organization based in Pakistan. JeM has a long, and detailed history of carrying out attacks against organs of the Indian government, and citizens of India, having done so in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Yet, JeM’s leader and founder, Masood Azhar, who is on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists, lives as a free citizen in Pakistan. This immediately led to the government of India stating that Pakistan was at most the orchestrator behind the attack, and at the very least complacent in it. Evidently, Pakistan has vociferously denied such allegations and has condemned the attack. However, this is not the first, nor will it be the last time that such accusations are leveled against Pakistan.
Pakistan has a long, and detailed history of both supporting, and granting safe-haven to terrorist groups. One must simply examine the past three decades worth of history in the country’s neighbor, Afghanistan. In the mid-1990s, when the Taliban, which is now one of the largest terrorist networks in the world was founded, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) provided support for its leader Mullah Omar. As the Taliban began to wage war against the internationally-recognized government, the ISI of Pakistan only increased its assistance to the terrorist group. Once the Taliban gained control of the majority of Afghanistan, Pakistan became one of only three countries to recognize its barbaric rule as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. As international concern grew regarding the Taliban harboring transnational terror networks in its territory in the late 1990s, Pakistan neglected to use its influence over the Taliban to expel terror networks such as Al-Qaeda. In fact, Pakistan only increased its assistance to the Taliban. This is underlined by the fact that in 2001 Pakistan was providing hundreds of advisors, and military personnel to the Taliban.
In 2001, following the successful removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan by the United States in cooperation with the Northern Alliance, it’s leader, Mullah Omar relocated to Quetta, in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Despite the commitments made to the international community by then-president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan did not act to effectively eliminate the Taliban as it attempted to regroup. Ironically, organs of the Pakistani government, particularly the ISI, provided indispensable assistance for the Taliban that allowed the organization to regroup; allowing it to launch an insurgency into Afghanistan in 2004. In fact, a NATO study published in 2012 concluded that the assistance provided by the ISI was imperative for the rejuvenation of the Taliban in the early twentieth century just as it was for the group’s original formation at the end of the previous century.
Through the mid-2000s up until this moment, organs of the Pakistani government have continued to support the Taliban. While lesser than the level that it was at the beginning of the century, the ISI of Pakistan continues to assist the Taliban. In particular, it continues to provide the group with funding, and safe haven in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. In short, the Taliban is given a lifeline of support by a country that is classified as a major non-NATO ally by the United States. It is imperative to note that this assistance is not directed by the civilian government of Pakistan, but by the all-powerful military and intelligence services that control the real levers of power in the country. As the international community, and in particular the United States embarks on an attempt to broker a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government it is imperative to examine the role that Pakistan will undoubtedly play in it. To that point, it is necessary to assess the likelihood that all organs of the Pakistani government will abide by the commitments that the civilian government of Pakistan may, or may not agree to.
One of the core aspects of the Pakistani ethos is an all-encompassing opposition to, and phobia of its neighbor, the Republic of India. This phobia originates from the process by which both Pakistan and India gained independence from the British Empire. The British decided that its colony, the Raj, would be divided into two countries; one for Hindus and Sikhs and one for Muslims. The division of the territories was predominantly done on a provincial basis, yet three provinces were divided at the level of districts. This resulted in violence, with each group attempting to kill off the other in various districts. This has led to a fundamental distrust and hatred between the two countries. Specifically, notable swaths of the Pakistani citizenry believe that India does not accept the country’s right to exist. Therefore, they are under the impression that India has the desire to isolate and invade the country thus explaining the motives of Pakistan to support terrorist groups carrying out attacks against India.
The phobia of India possessed by swaths of the Pakistani government also has a sizable effect on the country’s western neighbor, Afghanistan. For decades, Pakistanis have feared that India seeks to gain a “foothold” in Afghanistan that they can use to target their country. Further, Pakistan is currently in a long-running dispute with the Afghan government in Kabul regarding borderlines between the two countries. These two motives have led Pakistan to partake in activities that have inflicted incalculable damage on the stability of Afghanistan. One of the main ways Pakistan works to destabilize Afghanistan is by funding Islamic education centers, or Madrassas in rural areas across the country. These Madrassas are staffed by radical Imams, who rail against the internationally recognized government of Afghanistan in Kabul, claiming it is nothing but an “American Puppet.” The radical message conveyed in such Madrasas has compelled an unquantifiable number of young Afghans, and Pakistani youth alike to join an array of terrorist organizations, the largest of which is the Taliban. Further, the ISI of Pakistan continues to provide assistance to the Taliban in the form of safe-havens and resources.
Evidently, Pakistan vociferously denies all allegations levied against it regarding its support for terrorism. Further, throughout the twenty-first century, Pakistan has committed to working alongside its international allies to eliminate terror groups from the country. However, history is an indicator that this is nothing but cheap rhetoric from the civilian leadership of the country. Time and again, Pakistan’s lifeline of support for terrorist organizations operating in both India and Afghanistan has been proven. Despite the words, and potentially genuine commitment of the elected government of Pakistan to eliminate terror networks from the country, it is evident that organs of the Pakistani government will continue to do so. In short, the ISI and military establishment of Pakistan have the desire, and ability to continue providing support to terrorist networks that are carrying out attacks in India, and destabilizing Afghanistan.
As the international community attempts to facilitate a peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it is critical that the issue of Pakistan is addressed. Even if the civilian government of Pakistan, currently led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, helps facilitate dialogue between the two parties and is party to a peace agreement, it is not indicative of the entirety of the government that he claims to lead. In short, the role of the ISI and the support that it provides to the Taliban must be sufficiently addressed and dealt with if the international community ever hopes to see a lasting peace in Afghanistan.