WASHINGTON: Pakistan is staying the course of using terrorist groups to protect its interests, a former militant commander has divulged, contradicting Islamabad’s avowals to the contrary and hopeful testimonials from Washington and New Delhi about Pakistan changing its policy and behavior.
The unnamed militant said Pakistani generals have not given up the policy of nurturing terrorists. “That system was still functioning,” he told the New York Times referring to the Pakistan military’s training and protection of terrorists in an interview published on Monday.
“The government is not interested in eliminating them permanently,” he said. “The Pakistani military establishment has become habituated to using proxies… There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals. These people have a very big role still.”
He also revealed that Pakistan has 12,000 to 14,000 fully trained Kashmiri fighters, scattered throughout various camps in Pakistan, and is “holding them in reserve to use if needed in a war against India”.
He said ISI continues to support even terrorist groups that have turned against the government because the military still wants to keep them as tools for use against India. For instance, Pakistan could easily kill a militant leader like Hakimullah Mehsud but it chose not, he said, adding illustratively that he could do the job for Rs 20,000.
“The account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials… that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory,” the paper said, pointing that US has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counter-terrorism operations. The militant’s account comes as an embarrassment to some officials in Islamabad, Washington, and New Delhi who are ginning up a narrative of Pakistan giving up its policy of using terrorist groups for its so-called strategic depth despite there being no evidence to back this. Over the weekend, India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, who is now the ambassador-designate to the US, told a TV channel that there is a change in Pakistan’s attitude to tackling terrorism, and described it as a “concrete development”.
But the militant’s insights show no such change in the Pakistani establishment, unless one chooses to see the Pakistani military and government as different entities (they both claim to speak in one voice).