National Security

FACT CHECK: Does The Taliban Have ‘VIP Sanctuaries’ In Pakistan?

REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

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Kush Desai Fact Check Reporter
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Pakistani journalist Malik Achakzai claimed in a Monday tweet that Pakistan harbors and aides the Afghan Taliban.

Verdict: True

Pakistan provides sanctuary and support to the Afghan Taliban, many security officials and analysts have found, although Pakistan officially denies it.

Fact Check:

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday about how the U.S. has spent billions on aid to Pakistan as part of the War on Terror, despite Pakistan’s own ties to terrorism.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help,” Trump tweeted. “No more!”

Achakzai and others were quick to point out over social media that Pakistan, a designated Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA), has been providing sanctuary and support to the Afghan Taliban for years. The terror group is infamous for attacking civilians and for a brutal human rights record during the time it ruled most of Afghanistan under strict Shariah law.

Pakistan has officially denied supporting such terror groups on multiple occasions.

“We have time and again rejected these allegations,” a Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson recently told reporters. “Pakistan has done enough to erase the footprint of terrorism from its soil through indiscriminate counterterrorism operations against all terrorist outfits.”

Yet, security officials and analysts have nevertheless repeatedly underscored Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan’s powerful spy agency “gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies,” Taliban officials revealed in interviews with a Harvard University researcher.

“In their words,” a researcher noted. “This is ‘as clear as the sun in the sky.'”

This is a view that has also been echoed by high-ranking defense officials such as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson.

“The Taliban and Haqqani network are the greatest threats to security in Afghanistan,” Nicholson said in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Their senior leaders remain insulated from pressure and enjoy freedom of action within Pakistan safe havens. As long as they enjoy external enablement, they have no incentive to reconcile.”

Other analysts like Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, have even characterized Pakistan as more than just a friendly host.

“They control the lives of the leadership in Pakistan and the lives of the Taliban team in Doha,” he wrote in an op-ed in 2013. “As the former head of Afghan intelligence, Amrullah Saleh, likes to point out that the Taliban negotiators fly home to Karachi from Doha whenever they want to see their boss or their families. They are not independent players.”

Pakistani officials have a more acrimonious relationship, on the other hand, with the “Pakistani Taliban” or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The group orchestrated a 2014 Pakistani school bombing that killed 144 students and staff.

Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban and its leadership, however, it has also cooperated with many U.S.-led efforts in the fight against terrorism. Pakistani authorities worked with U.S. counterparts, for instance, to capture 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a 2003 joint operation. (Mohammed, a Pakistani citizen and al-Qaeda leader, was captured outside Pakistan’s capital.)

“Although Pakistani military operations have disrupted some militant sanctuaries,” a June 2017 Department Of Defense (DOD) report notes. “Certain extremist groups—such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network—were able to relocate and continue to operate in and from Pakistan.”

This inconsistency is rooted in Pakistan’s rivalry with its regional rival India. Pakistan has viewed Afghanistan as a strategic bulwark to counter Indian influence and has also utilized terrorism to try to destabilize India.

Insistence by the U.S. that Pakistan take action against all terrorist groups, including those focused on attacking India, has contributed to a cooperative yet rocky relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“The American dilemma has been that Pakistan is useful to the U.S.,” former Pakistan Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said in BBC interview. “And so is the usefulness more important than the lack of strategic convergence? Or is the lack of strategic convergence which results in [the] death of American personnel in Afghanistan more significant?”

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