|| By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd.)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
By admitting that the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack was carried out by Pakistan based terror group but that the Pakistani government had no role in it, former Pakistan National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani has managed to hit headlines while keeping himself safe. Durrani was speaking at a conference on combating terrorism at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis in Delhi. By not naming the terror group and absolving the Pakistani government of any involvement, he can return to Pakistan a hero, even though he stated that Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed has no utility and Pakistan should act against him. As a former NSA Durrani would know that the ‘Karachi Project’ is very much the brain of the Pakistani military and manned by them, and that more importantly, Ajmal Kasab and his colleagues who executed the 26/11 were trained by Pakistani marines under the watchful eye of the ISI. Durrani also knows that talking about Hafiz Saeed in this manner makes little difference.
Sure Pakistan put Hafiz Saeed and four leaders of JuD and Falah-e-Insaniat under house arrest on January 30 but then Hafiz Saeed, who carries a reward of $10 million, was also put under house arrest after Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 but freed by court in 2009. Durrani also knows full well that Hafiz Saeed has all the utility as advisor to Pakistan’s military for waging proxy war on India and Afghanistan, including directing Islamic State attacks in Afghanistan. Hafiz Saeed also has the benevolent hand of Chinese President Xi Jinping protecting him, same as for the other radical mullah Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). And, why would Pakistan take any action against these radical mullahs when Sartaj Aziz, Advisor on Foreign Affairs to Pak PM told BBC in 2015, “Pakistan should not engage in a war with those (insurgents / militants) whose target is not Pakistan.” The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Report for 2016 released on February 6, 2017 highlights the following: highest ever number of civilian casualties in a single year, including record figures for children killed and injured in 2016; 11,418 conflict-related civilian casualties, including 3,498 killed and 7,920 injured. Of these, 3,512 were children - 923 dead and 2,589 injured, up 24% on the previous highest recorded figure by UNAMA in 2009; anti-government forces, mainly the Taliban, were responsible for almost two thirds of the casualties, and; majority of the casualties caused by Daesh/ISKP occurred in three large-scale attacks on the Shia Muslim community.
It is significant to note that the Taliban were fully supported by Pakistan and China while the ISKP (Islamic State of Khorasan Province) too has ISI support. More importantly, the UNAMA report of July 2016 had brought out the following: 5,166 people killed / maimed in Afghanistan (Jan to June 2016); total civilian casualties in Afghanistan (Jan 2009 - 30 Jun 2016) 64,000 (23000 killed, 41,000 injured) - “conservative” estimates; and majority of these casualties caused by the anti-Afghan government forces - Taliban and organized armed groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-i-Mohammed (JeM), Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, groups identified as ‘Daesh’ (IS) and other militia and armed groups. It was the first time that the names of Pakistani proxies like LeT and JeM had appeared. Later at international forums it emerged that Laskar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-i-Sahiba too is operating in Afghanistan. It needs to intelligence to decipher that all these proxies are being employed in tandem by Pakistan’s ISI, while radicals like Musharraf boast, “Osama-bin-Laden, Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Haqqanis are our heroes …..
We trained the LeT against India.” Yet, Asif Ghafoor, Pakistan’s Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is calling on Afghanistan to abandon its 'anti-Pakistan lens' and devise policies with Pakistan through an 'Afghan lens'. What can be an example of a more defiant Frankenstein where Pakistan is using every possible proxy to expand its strategic depth in Afghanistan – blowbacks in Pakistan notwithstanding? The situation in Afghanistan is indeed grim. As per a SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction) report presented to the US Congress in February 2017, Afghan government had 57.2% of the country under its control by the end of 2016 — a 6.3% decrease from 2015. While officials in Kabul and the US administration both repeatedly deny that the Taliban is gaining momentum ground, reports from the ground differ. The SIGAR report corroborates those reports noting the continuing decline in territory under government control, with Kabul now exerting its influence over just a little over half of Afghanistan. Further the report notes that displacement is at an all time high. In 2016, 583,000 people fled their homes due to conflict. SIGAR added that that is “the highest number of displacements since record keeping started in 2008.” The US has reportedly spent more than $117 billion in Afghanistan since 2002. Also, in 2016, opium production in Afghanistan rose 43% from 2015 levels, narcotics also being a major source of funding for the ISI. So while Pakistan plays the “also victim of terror” tune, the Frankenstein remains defiant. The military remains gung-ho for the time being.