State Department: Pakistan continues to provide safe haven for Taliban

An audio message from Siraj Haqqani was included in a Dec. 2016 Taliban video emphasizing the group’s alliance with al Qaeda.

The State Department’s newly released Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 points to Pakistan’s ongoing complicity with jihadists in Central and South Asia, including the Afghan Taliban. Despite describing Pakistan as an “important counterterrorism partner,” Foggy Bottom blames the country for harboring some of the forces fighting America’s allies in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military and intelligence establishment cracks down on jihadist groups that target elements of the state, but regularly leaves others unscathed, as long as their terrorism is directed elsewhere. The effect of this “Good Taliban, Bad Taliban” policy continues to be felt in Afghanistan, where the insurgency rages nearly 16 years into the American-led war.

Pakistan “did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or [the Haqqani Network, HQN], or substantially limit their ability to threaten US interests in Afghanistan, although Pakistan supported efforts to bring both groups into an Afghan-led peace process,” Foggy Bottom’s report reads.

“Afghanistan, in particular, continued to experience aggressive and coordinated attacks by the Afghan Taliban, including the affiliated Haqqani Network (HQN) and other insurgent and terrorist groups,” State noted. Importantly, a “number of these attacks were planned and launched from safe havens in Pakistan.”

While the State Department refers to the Haqqani Network as being “affiliated” with the Taliban, it is actually wholly “integrated” into the Taliban’s operations.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the network established by his father Jalaluddin, has been one of the Taliban’s top two deputies since 2015. (Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 notes Siraj’s top leadership role in the Taliban.) The Taliban and the Haqqanis have both repeatedly rejected the notion that they are independent groups. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Taliban again affirms Haqqani Network is an integral part of group.]

Although Afghan forces prevented the Taliban from capturing a provincial capital in 2016, State reports that the war “was characterized by the capture and recapture of facilities and territory by both sides.”

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) maintained “control of major population centers,” including “provincial capitals and the majority of district centers.” But “the Taliban gained or maintained control of substantial territory in less populated, rural areas…thereby creating an environment of persistent insecurity.”

State notes that the Taliban’s extensive “rural” footprint allowed it “to regularly exert pressure on population centers,” orchestrating sieges on provincial capitals in “Farah, Helmand, Kunduz, and Uruzgan.”

The Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, “also increased high-profile terrorist attacks targeting Afghan government officials – including justice officials – and members of the international community” in 2016.

All of this makes the Taliban’s sanctuary inside Pakistan vitally important, as at least part of the insurgency’s leadership continues to safely operate from inside the country.

Meanwhile, the ANDSF “suffered an unprecedented number of casualties in an intense fighting season.” According to the ANDSF’s own statistics, its casualties were “30 percent higher in 2016 than in 2015.”

The Haqqani Network has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government, so there is a section on the group in State’s discussion of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” There is no section on the overall Taliban, which hasn’t been designated, even though the Haqqanis’ men lead it. The State Department says that the Haqqani Network “is believed to have several hundred core members, but it is estimated that the organization is able to draw upon a pool of upwards of 10,000 fighters,” making it a formidable guerrilla army.

The Taliban wasn’t the only jihadist organization to benefit from Pakistan’s policies, according to Foggy Bottom.

The Pakistani state “did not take sufficient action against other externally focused groups, such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba [LeT] and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM),” which “continued to operate, train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan.” The only “significant action against LeT or JeM” taken by Pakistan in 2016 was to continue “implementing an ongoing ban against media coverage of their activities.” However, both LeT and JeM were able to “hold rallies, raise money, recruit, and train in Pakistan.”

All of the aforementioned jihadist groups operating in Pakistan — the Afghan Taliban (including the Haqqani Network), LeT, and JeM — have been allied with al Qaeda. This means that the Pakistani state’s preferred jihadists have often cooperated with” America’s terrorist foe.

Ayman al Zawahiri has repeatedly sworn an oath of allegiance (bay’ah) to the Taliban’s emir, including current leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Zawahiri also swore bay’ah to Akhundzada’s predecessor, Mullah Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2016.

Siraj Haqqani has been a staunch supporter of al Qaeda and has sat on the group’s shura council.

The State Department says that the Haqqani network “draws strength through cooperation with other terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan, including al Qaeda” and JeM. Siraj’s father, Jalaluddin, was one of Osama bin Laden’s earliest backers in the region, as the two “established a relationship” in the mid-1980s. “After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001,” according to State, “Jalaluddin retreated to Pakistan where, under the leadership of [Siraj Haqqani], the group continued to direct and conduct terrorist activity in Afghanistan.” Various unconfirmed reports have stated that Jalaluddin has since passed away.

Pakistan does fight some jihadists, mainly those who directly target elements of the state.

According to the State Department, “Pakistani military and security forces undertook operations against groups that conducted attacks within Pakistan such as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan,” otherwise known as the Pakistani Taliban. Al Qaeda is also allied with the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistani officials have even sought to negotiate with al Qaeda’s leadership in an attempt to rein in the Pakistani Taliban’s violence.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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