ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (New York Times or Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) — The Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and American forces in Afghanistan, but now some of the fighters it trained are questioning that strategy, a prominent former militant commander says. The former commander said that he was supported by the Pakistani military for 15 years as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents until he quit a few years ago.
Militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen, are run by religious leaders, with the Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and protection. That system was still functioning, he said.
The former commander’s account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory. The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counterterrorism operations. Still, the former commander said, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American and NATO forces.
“There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals,” he said. He named a number of former military officials involved in the program, including former chiefs of the intelligence service and other former generals. “These people have a very big role still,” he said.
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Maj. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam Abbasi, a former intelligence officer who was convicted of attempting a coup against the government of Benazir Bhutto in 1995 and who is now dead, was one of the most active supporters of the militant groups in the years after Sept. 11, the former commander said.
He said he saw General Abbasi several times: once at a meeting of Taliban and Pakistani militant leaders in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province as they planned how to confront the American military in Afghanistan; and twice in Mir Ali, which became the center for foreign militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, including members of Al Qaeda.
There were about 60 people at the Taliban meeting in late 2001, soon after the Taliban government fell, the former commander said. Pakistani militant leaders were present, as were the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, and Muhammad Haqqani, a member of the Haqqani network.
Several retired officials of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were also there, he said, including a man known as Colonel Imam but who was actually Brig. Sultan Amir, a well-known trainer and mentor of militants, and General Abbasi. The militant groups divided Afghanistan into separate areas of operations and discussed how to trip up America.
KABUL, Afghanistan (Military.com) June 30, 2011 – The U.S.-led coalition blamed an al-Qaida affiliated network working jointly with Taliban fighters for a deadly attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul – an assault that raised doubts about the ability of Afghan forces to handle security as foreign troops withdraw.
The coalition also reported that a leader with the Haqqani network suspected of having provided assistance, including weapons, fighters and training, to the gunmen who attacked the Inter-Continental hotel was killed in a precision airstrike. Ismail Jan, the deputy to the senior Haqqani commander inside Afghanistan, and other Haqqani fighters died in the airstrike in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia province.
PESHAWAR (Dawn.com/AP) April 28, 2011 – The Pakistanis, however, are unlikely to target the Haqqani group, which the US considers its greatest enemy in Afghanistan. US Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained last week that Pakistan’s secret service maintains links to the Haqqani network. The Haqqanis are Afghan Taliban who control parts of eastern Afghanistan and have bases in North Waziristan.
If the Haqqanis and other militant groups in North Waziristan cooperate with a military assault against the Pakistani Taliban, that would give the army more options.
The fissures among the militants were laid bare in February, when Mehsud released a gruesome video that confirmed the shooting death of former Pakistani spy Sultan Amir Tarar, better known as Col. Imam, according to a senior Pakistan army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
As Pakistan’s consul general in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province during the Taliban’s rule, Imam was the conduit for money and weapons to the religious movement. A former Pakistani intelligence officer, Imam met regularly with Afghan Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Imam was known to have kept contact with leading Taliban in hiding in Pakistan since the US-led coalition ousted them from power in Afghanistan in 2001.
Mehsud’s Group [TTP] had held Imam for 10 months. The killing confounded Pakistani military officials. They had long believed the Haqqanis held sway over the myriad of groups — including militants from Uzbekistan, Chechnya and the Middle East — operating in North Waziristan.
“We always thought that the Afghan Taliban had a sway over these groups, but Col. Imam’s killing shows that no one is in control of anyone there,” he said. “His death was a shock for us.”
Taliban members who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they feared being arrested said Mullah Omar made a personal plea for Imam’s life. Also requesting that Imam’s life be spared was Sirajuddin Haqqani, a key leader of the Haqqani group.
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