Much ado’s been made over the veracity of a shoddy report released this week by the London School of Economics (LSE) that claims Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) is supporting the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. On top of this “breaking story” being stale by nearly 20 years, whether the ISI is or isn’t involved with militant organizations now seems academic (no pun intended as this report is anything but).
Because who needs Pakistani intelligence to go through the bother of covertly funding extremists when you can have the Pakistan government do it publicly, just as they allocated $1 million to a group on the UN terrorism watchlist last year? Budget figures released this week indicate Punjab’s provincial government earmarked monies to go to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), a so-called charity that’s actually a front for jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or “Army of the Pure”.
LeT likely rings a bell because they’re the ones who coordinated the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack and the New York Times just reported they’re now a bigger threat in Afghanistan than Al-Qaeda. Originally created by the ISI as a weapon of terror against India, LeT’s scope has blossomed beyond Jammu and Kashmir – a vision that can be found in a dandy little pamphlet entitled “Why Are We Waging Jihad?” in which they declare America, Israel and India to be existential enemies of Islam, while outlining their mission to establish a union of all Muslim majority countries surrounding Pakistan. How does one remit a donation?
The U.S. has been aggressively pressuring President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration to crackdown on militant groups within its borders; thus, it goes without saying the audit casts reasonable doubt on Pakistan’s purported “war against extremism”. It is also makes sense, however, considering Punjab’s chief minister, Shabab Sharif, not too long ago publicly asked the Taliban not to attack his province because he did not support U.S. policy. As if that wasn’t enough, he tried to further identify with his potential tormentors, pathetically attempting to assuage the Taliban by claiming he shared many of their ideas (I’d now like to ask Mr. Sharif his thoughts on the Taliban executing a 7-year old boy after falsely accusing him of espionage – a death that came none too quickly based on the marks on his neck that indicated he probably struggled a bit as he hung from a branch that had some give. I just wonder if that’s a good example of one of the types of “ideas” he might share with the Taliban).
And don’t tell us the money was going to hospitals, schools, mosques and seminaries – we do not care – even if it were true in this particular instance. For one, that allows for more discretionary spending, if you will, to aid and assist groups focused on wreaking havoc in Afghanistan and India who are ultimately bent on taking down the Pakistani state. It can no longer be said that Pakistan created a Frankenstein monster or that any chickens shall be coming home to roost, because it’s less that than a maddening masochistic streak that’s run through Punjab, if not Islamabad as well.
Secondly, funding the indoctrination and military training of future extremists is just as abhorrent as buying guns for current ones. The mosques and madrassas are the root cause of the problem anyway, where their radical Islamist ideology is securely implanted into the minds of Pakistani youth. Mind you, not all madrassas are jihadist factories. Some experts have estimated about 15 percent of the 20,000 religious schools preach violence and militancy. Zardari announced a program two years ago aimed at reining in militant madrassas, but the program stalled because of Pakistan’s powerful conservative religious lobby.
Many might be reading this jumping out of their seats screaming how the ISI created these militant groups and how the U.S., for all practical purposes, helped build the ISI by providing Pakistan with billions throughout the Soviet-Afghanistan war to help support the Mujahideen. We get it. But times have changed and everyone’s due for a paradigm shift.
Contrary to the assertions in the aforementioned LSE amateurish report about the ISI still being in bed with the Afghan Taliban, I’ve heard from sources very close to former Pakistani military and intelligence officials that there is a heartfelt desire to curb extremism, and a desire to see a stable Afghanistan – which makes more sense than the ISI funding and managing Afghan militants who have actually attacked them a number of times.
And the author of the LSE report, Matt Waldman from Harvard, should have at least asked one person willing to give his or her name, not to mention interviewing a person or two that actually lived in Pakistan. As Mosharraf Zaidi brilliantly pointed out:
In a report that is essentially about Pakistan, Waldman must be the world’s unluckiest researcher, having been unable to interview a single one of Pakistan’s more than 180 million people. Waldman is at least honest about this, claiming no conversations with Pakistani officials, military officers, or indeed, any ISI agents. Not having spoken to an ISI agent is an aspect of the report that stands out. Because, if there is one thing Waldman’s research really tries to prove, it is that the easiest thing to find in Afghanistan, other than finely-cut heroin, are ISI agents.
Remarkably, not a single one of the 54 honest and endearing protagonists in Matt Waldman’s story wanted to be cited by name, or go on the record. In the footnote detailing who the nine Taliban field commanders are, he offers no details, stating that “Due to safety concerns each commander insisted on anonymity”. This is terribly confusing. Waldman’s Taliban commanders don’t seem to have any particular safety concerns when blowing up and killing Gen Stanley McChrystal’s JSOC boys while they are on patrol in Helmand. But an LSE report with their names in it scares the jihad right out of them?
But the glimmer of hope from knowing Pakistani intel and military officials are serious about reform was vanquished by this news about the political leaders of Pakistan’s largest province publicly funding a terrorist front group. Which gives me doubts about the future, because although we know the root cause of the problem is at the madrassa level, good luck finding a politician to take charge of that reform initiative. As Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political and security analyst said:
“Religious intolerance is getting worse in Pakistan because the political leadership lacks the will to fight this. They don’t want to face the wrath of mullahs.”
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