Pakistan’s Spymaster Visits Washington Amid U.S. Concerns About Counterterror Cooperation

By Patrick Goodenough | August 1, 2012 | 4:25 AM EDT

Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam was appointed head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in March (AP Photo)

( – As the new head of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency visits Washington for the first time, the State Department’s annual report on global terrorism once again points to Pakistan’s reluctance to rein in terrorist groups with strong historical links to the agency.

Foremost among these are the Haqqani network (HQN) and Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT). The groups have longstanding, well-documented ties to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, whose new head, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, is paying a three-day visit starting Wednesday.

The report also states that Pakistan remains home to al-Qaeda’s “core leadership.”  Islamabad complained last May when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a similar assertion during a visit to neighboring India.

Islam, who took the post last March, is expected to hold talks with CIA director Gen. David Petraeus. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters Monday a push for the U.S. to end drone attacks along the border would be high on the agenda.

Briefing the media Tuesday on the terror report, U.S. ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin cited “strong concern” about the activities of the Haqqani network, adding, “We’ve talked to the Pakistanis on numerous occasions about this, and the work goes on.”

The HQN, a Pashtun-led Taliban faction based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district, is described by ISAF commanders in Afghanistan as one of the greatest threats faced by coalition forces there.

Amid claims of the ISI providing support and sanctuary to the HQN, the U.S. has for years been pressing Pakistan to act against the network, with little progress.

At the same time, the U.S. government has neither punished Pakistan as a state-sponsor of terror nor designated the HQN as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

Frustrated by the glacial pace of an administration FTO review, the U.S. Senate last week passed a bill requiring the secretary of state to report – within 30 days of the president signing the measure – on whether the HQN meets the criteria for FTO designation, and if not, to explain why.

Benjamin declined to comment Tuesday on the status of the FTO review, noting merely that some Haqqani members have been named “specially designated global terrorists” under a U.S. executive order designed to disrupt terror funding.

LeT, by contrast, has been designated an FTO since December 2001. The group was set up in the late 1980s, with ISI support, originally to fight Indian rule in disputed Kashmir. It has been implicated in numerous attacks against India, including the 2008 Mumbai assault which cost the lives of 166 people, including six Americans.

Like the Haqqanis, LeT has become active against coalition forces in Afghanistan; a top U.S. military officer has called it a “global threat.”

“I’ve spoken on many occasions about the threat to stability in South Asia that Lashkar-e Toiba poses,” Benjamin said during the briefing.

“We’ve urged Pakistan to take more action against Lashkar-e Toiba,” he said. “It remains a major concern on the terrorist landscape, without a doubt.”

‘Action was not as strong against other groups’

According to Congressional Research Service data, the U.S. has given Pakistan billions of dollars in direct aid and military reimbursements since 9/11, including more than $8 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds, reimbursements intended to aid Pakistan’s fight against terrorists.

While even Pakistani analysts acknowledge that the government and ISI regard the HQN and LeT as strategic assets, Islamabad consistently denies claims of collusion, generally responding by insisting that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism, not a facilitator.

Indeed, the global terror report shows that attacks in Pakistan increased by eight percent during 2011, with the country recording the third-highest number of terror fatalities (2,038 deaths), after Afghanistan (3,245) and Iraq (2,958).

But the report also indicated that Pakistan’s counterterror cooperation has been uneven.

“Pakistan remained a critical partner on counterterrorism efforts, actively engaging against al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, its cooperation regarding other terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was mixed.”

Elsewhere, it stated again, “The Pakistani military took action against violent extremist groups such as AQ and TTP and suffered numerous casualties. However, Pakistani action was not as strong against other groups, including HQN and LeT.”

(TTP is a conglomeration of a dozen militant organizations, known as the Pakistani Taliban.)

The report drew attention to the regional impact of HQN and LeT activity, saying the groups “continued to cite U.S. interests as legitimate targets for attacks.”

In Afghanistan, the Haqqani network was responsible, with others, for that country experiencing “more aggressive and coordinated attacks” during the review period, with more than 50 terrorist attacks reported in Kabul from January to November.

LeT, meanwhile, “was responsible for multiple attacks,” and especially active in India, where more than 1,000 lives were lost in terror-related violence in 2011.

India remained “one of the world’s most terrorism-afflicted countries and one of the most persistently targeted countries by transnational terrorist groups such as LeT,” it said.

Under a section on “safe havens,” the report said the HQN, LeT and others active in Afghanistan “continued to use territory across the border in Pakistan as a base from which to plot and launch attacks within the region and beyond.”

It also cited “the inability of Pakistan's security agencies to fully control portions of its own territory,” a situation which allowed the HQN, LeT and others to plan and direct operations against Afghan and coalition forces from Pakistani soil.

The report noted that Clinton, Petraeus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey last October “met with their counterparts in Islamabad to outline concrete steps Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership must take to join pressure the Haqqani network from both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and to eliminate terrorist safe havens.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow