National Security

Pakistan denies Pentagon charge it's soft on terrorism

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Dec. 9, 2013.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Dec. 9, 2013. Department of Defense

A senior Pakistan military official Friday rejected recent claims by the Pentagon and civilian or defense leaders of other nations that it coddles Islamic militants who’ve launched numerous attacks on neighboring India and Afghanistan from Pakistani territory.

Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the Pakistani military’s top spokesman, also said Islamabad sees no signs of Islamic State fighters having infiltrated the country despite recent reports that the radical group is recruiting hundreds of people in Baluchistan, a province in southwestern Pakistan on the borders of Iran and Afghanistan.

Bajwa said an ongoing Pakistan Army offensive against extremists in Waziristan, a mountainous province on the Afghan border, shows his government’s determination to combat terrorism.

“We will eliminate all terrorists without discrimination – all terrorists of any hue or color,” Bajwa told defense reporters at a lunch in Washington. “We will not allow our soil to be used for terrorism.”

Bajwa met with journalists before the arrival in Washington of Gen. Raheel Sharif, the Pakistan Army's chief of staff, for meetings next week with Pentagon and congressional leaders.

Bajwa said 500 Pakistani soldiers have died in the current offensive, which Islamabad launched in June after a terrorist attack on the Karachi airport. He said extremists have killed 5,000 troops and 45,000 civilians since Pakistan joined the United States in fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.

“We probably have suffered the most in our continued terrorism fight,” Bajwa said.

In a report to Congress last month on the security situation in Afghanistan, the Pentagon accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to Islamic extremists who are attacking India across its eastern border and Afghanistan over its western frontier.

“Afghan- and Indian-focused militants continue to operate from Pakistan territory to the detriment of Afghan and regional stability,” the Pentagon said. “Pakistan uses these proxy forces to hedge against the loss of influence in Afghanistan and to counter India’s superior military.”

The extremists in the largely lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan along the Afghan border “continue to act as the primary irritant in Afghan-Pakistan bilateral relations,” the Pentagon said.

A State Department described parts of Pakistan as “a safe haven for terrorist groups.”

Asked about the Pentagon’s recent claims, Bajwa responded: “So much has been done (against terrorists), it needs to be appreciated.”

The Pakistan Foreign Ministry last week formally protested the Pentagon’s assertions, dismissing them as “unsubstantiated allegations of the existence of terrorist ‘sanctuaries’ or that proxy forces are operating from here against Afghanistan and India.”

Bajwa criticized an amendment to the pending 2015 defense appropriations bill, by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, to withhold some of the $960 million in U.S. military aid to Pakistan until it takes stronger action against home-grown terrorists.

Specifically, the Michigan Democrat’s amendment would release the aid only if the U.S. defense secretary certifies that Pakistan has “undertaken military operations in North Waziristan that have significantly disrupted the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani network in Pakistan.”

Asked about Levin’s amendment, Bajwa said: “I think that’s not a fair assessment at all.”

Yet, Bajwa several times declined to say whether the Pakistani offensive has led to the capture or killing of Haqqani militants, who’ve waged attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan for years while moving freely across the two countries’ border.

Pakistan’s ties to Islamic extremists date to the 1980s, when the country’s intelligence agencies -- along with the CIA -- armed and trained Muslim mujahideen fighting Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.

Al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden took refuge in Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. Navy SEALs killed him May 2, 2011, in a nighttime raid on his secret compound in the northeastern Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

At a security conference in Beijing two weeks ago, China, a close ally of Pakistan, raised concerns about terrorism in the wake of a string of attacks by extremists in its Xinjiang region, a majority Muslim area in northwestern China that borders Pakistan.

Afghan officials from the government of that country’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, also raised concerns at the Beijing conference. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a U.S. ally, regularly accused Pakistan of coddling terrorists.

Ghani, who took office Sept. 29 after contested elections to succeed Karzai, began a two-day visit to Pakistan on Friday aimed at resetting the two countries’ relations after years of strained ties during the Afghanistan war that the United States launched in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban regime.

In a Nov. 10 analysis, firstpost.com, an Indian digital news website with close ties to the New Delhi government, wrote: “Pakistan is a country that is in the cross-hairs of jihadist terrorism that it had itself fawned and encouraged. Pakistan has been using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy for over three decades.”

Despite the offensive in Waziristan, at least 57 people died Nov. 2 in a suicide bombing in eastern Pakistan near its border with India. Several terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for the Waziristan campaign.

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court is currently trying seven men accused of carrying out the November 2008 attacks that killed 166 people in Mumbai, India, the country’s financial capital.

During a meeting in Berlin this week with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said investors from her country are wary of doing business in Pakistan because of its unstable security environment.

Merkel urged her Pakistani counterpart to help create “a climate that is friendly for investors.”

  Comments