Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, July 12, 2016:
Editor’s note: Below is Bill Roggio’s testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. A PDF of the testimony, with footnotes, can be downloaded here.
Chairman Poe and Chairman Salmon, Ranking Members Keating and Sherman, and other members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to speak about Pakistan and its support for terrorist groups that threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
This Committee rightly asks the question of whether Pakistan is a friend or foe in the fight against terrorism. While Pakistani officials and forces have assisted the U.S. in hunting senior al Qaeda figures at times, Pakistan’s overall strategy is pro-jihadist and therefore puts it in the foe category. Pakistan does battle some terrorist groups within its borders, but it only does so because these groups pose a direct threat to the state.
Pakistan myopically supports a host of terrorist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India to further its goals in the region. Pakistan backs these groups despite the fact that they are allied with and aid the very terrorist groups that fight the Pakistani state. In addition, many of the jihadist groups sponsored by Pakistan are allied with al Qaeda.
Today I will highlight six major groups directly supported or tolerated by Pakistan’s establishment: the Afghan Taliban and its subgroup, the Haqqani Network; the Mullah Nazir Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Each of these groups is used by Pakistan as an instrument of its foreign policy. These six groups are by no means the only terrorist organizations supported by Pakistan, they are merely the most prominent.
Pakistan uses these six groups and others as a counterweight against what its policy makers perceive to be Pakistan’s greatest threat: India. However, the jihadist ideology has also spread throughout Pakistan as a result of policies adopted by the country’s military elite. Therefore, we should not underestimate the degree to which these groups are supported for ideological reasons.
Pakistan, a country of 182 million people, does not possess the manpower to counter India, a nation of 1.25 billion. Pakistan and India have been in a virtual state of war since Partition in 1947. The two countries have fought four active wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Each of these wars was initiated by Pakistan, and ended in defeats. Pakistani strategists have determined that to counter India, it must use unconventional means, including supporting jihadist groups.
To compensate for its inability to achieve victory on conventional battlefields against India, Pakistan implemented its own version of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Pakistan has supported groups in Afghanistan in order to deny India influence in its backyard, as well as to allow the nation to serve as a fallback in case of an Indian invasion.
Pakistan capitalized on the chaos in Afghanistan post-Soviet withdrawal and hunted for a group that would serve its purposes. With the rise of Mullah Omar’s Taliban faction in the early 1990s, Pakistan military and intelligence officers assigned to implement strategic depth saw the perfect partner: a powerful jihadist political movement that was gaining popularity throughout the country and was capable of sustaining military advances. Pakistan provided military and financial support to Omar’s faction, which successfully established the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban in 1996 and controlled upwards of 90 percent of the country until the US invasion in 2001.
In addition to securing a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan used the country as both a training and a recruiting ground for a host of jihadist groups that fight in India-occupied Kashmir.
Good vs Bad Taliban
In order to justify its policy of support to jihadist groups, Pakistani elites have attempted to distinguish between what are referred to as “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.” Simply stated, the so-called “good Taliban” are groups that advance Pakistan’s foreign policy goals and do not threaten the state or wage war within its borders. “Good Taliban” and other groups deemed acceptable by the Pakistani establishment include the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Mullah Nazir Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. These groups conduct numerous heinous acts of terrorism in the region, and are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and civilians, and yet are supported by the Pakistani state.
“Bad Taliban” are any jihadist faction that challenges the primacy of the Pakistani state. These groups include the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the weakened Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Pakistani military has pursued these groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with some success. However, when targeting these groups, the military has avoided pursuing groups such as the Haqqani Network, which provided shelter and support for the “bad Taliban.”
Pakistani officials have denied that it pursues a policy of strategic depth and differentiates between “good and bad Taliban”, or alternatively, have claimed it will no longer differentiate between the two. However, these claims are false. This is demonstrated in Pakistan’s continuing support for the aforementioned groups and others, as well as an unwillingness to round up leaders and key operatives of these groups.