US National Intelligence Director (Retd) Admiral Dennis Blair has said that the Pakistani military and its intelligence arm, the ISI, continue to sponsor and arm the Afghan Taliban in order to maintain its strategic depth against India.
In testimony before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday as part of the US intelligence community's Annual Threat Assessment, Blair said: "The safe haven that Afghan insurgents have in Pakistan is the group's most important outside support."
He said, "Disrupting that safe haven will not be sufficient by itself to defeat the insurgency, but disruption of the insurgent in Pakistan is a necessary condition of making substantial counter-insurgency progress."
He said that while Pakistan public opinion favouring Al Qaeda and the Taliban have declined precipitously in the past year, "on the other hand, despite robust Pakistani military operations against extremists that directly challenge the Pakistani government authority, Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Pakistani militant groups continue to use Pakistan as a safe haven for organising, training and planning attacks against the United States and our allies in Afghanistan, India and Europe."
He said that while Islamabad "has demonstrated determination and persistence in combating militants it perceives dangerous to Pakistan's interests, particularly those involved in attacks in the settled areas, including FATA (Federal Administered Tribal Areas)-based Tehrik-e-Pakistan," the fact is that the military and the ISI "still judges it does not need to confront groups that do not threaten it directly and maintains historical support for the Taliban."
Blair reiterated, "Pakistan has not consistently pursued militant actors focussed on Afghanistan through Pakistani operations against TTP and similar groups have sometimes temporarily disrupted Al Qaeda."
"Simultaneously, Islamabad has maintained relationships with other Taliban-associated groups that support and conduct operations against US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. It has continued to provide support to its militant proxies such as Haqqani Taliban, Gul Bahadur Group and Commander Nazir Group," he said.
Blair rubbed it in and made clear to the lawmakers: "Indeed, as is well-known, the Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, and Pakistani militant safe havens in Quetta, the FATA and the NWFP will continue to enable Afghan insurgents and Al Qaeda to plan operations, direct propaganda, recruiting and training activities and fundraising activities with relative impunity."
He said, "Substantially reducing the ability of insurgents to operate in Pakistan would not by itself end the insurgency in Afghanistan," and reiterated that "Pakistani safe haven is an important Taliban strength, and unless it is greatly diminished, the Taliban insurgency can survive defeats in Afghanistan."
Blair said all of this was an outcome of "Islamabad's conviction that militant groups are an important part of its strategic arsenal to counter India's military and economic advantages," and predicted that it "will continue to limit Pakistan's incentive to pursue an across-the-board effort against extremism."
Thus, he said, "Islamabad's strategic approach risks helping Al Qaeda sustain its safe haven because some groups supported by Pakistan provide assistance to Al Qaeda."
Image: US National Intelligence Director (Retd) Admiral Dennis Blair