New York: Notwithstanding its repeated
refutal of links with terror groups, the Pakistan military
continues to support a broad range of militants as part of its
three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbours
and US forces in Afghanistan, a former top militant commander
Terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen
and Hizbul Mujahedeen are run by religious leaders, with the
Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and
protection, the militant leader said.
A former top militant commander, said he was supported by
the Pakistani military for 15 years as a fighter, leader and
trainer of insurgents until he quit a few years ago.
The commander is well known in militant circles, but
accustomed to a covert existence, `New York Times` reported
publishing an interview, the paper claimed he gave on the
condition that his name, location and personal details would
not be revealed.
Times said, that the former commander`s account belies
years of assurance by Pakistan to American officials since
September 11 2001 attacks that it has ceased supporting
militant groups on its territory.
The militant commander said that Pakistan`s military and
intelligence establishments had not abandoned its policy of
supporting militant groups as tools in Pakistan`s dispute with
India over Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American
and NATO forces.
"There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and
retired generals," he said and named a number of former
military officials involved in the programme, including former
chiefs of the intelligence service and other former generals.
"These people have a very big role still," he said.
Maj Gen Zaheer ul-Islam Abbasi, a former intelligence
officer who was convicted of attempting a coup against the
government of Benazir Bhutto in 1995 and who is now dead, was
one of the most active supporters of the militant groups in
the years after Sept 11, the former commander said.
He said he saw General Abbasi several times: once at a
meeting of Taliban and Pakistani militant leaders in
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province as they planned how to confront
the American military in Afghanistan; and twice in Mir Ali,
which became the centre for foreign militants in Pakistan`s
tribal areas, including members of al Qaeda.
There were about 60 people at the Taliban meeting in late
2001, soon after the Taliban government fell, the former
Pakistani militant leaders were present, as were the
Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, and
Muhammad Haqqani, a member of the Haqqani network.
Several retired officials of Pakistan`s premier spy
agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or
ISI, were also there, he said, including a man known as
Colonel Imam but who was actually Brig Sultan Amir, a
well-known trainer and mentor of militants, and General
The militant groups divided Afghanistan into separate
areas of operations and discussed how to "trip up America," he
The Pakistani military still supports the Afghan Taliban
in their fight to force out American and NATO forces from
Afghanistan, he said, adding that he thought they would be
The ISI also still supports other Pakistani militant
groups, even some of those that have turned against the
government, because the military still wants to keep them as
tools for use against its arch-rival, India, he said.
The military used a strategy of divide and rule,
encouraging splits in the militant groups to weaken and
control them, he said.
Although the military has lost control of many of the
firebrand fighters, and has little influence over the foreign
fighters in the tribal areas who belong to al Qaeda some of
whom openly oppose the Pakistani government it was reluctant
to move against them, he said.
Pakistan could easily kill the notoriously vicious
militant leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud,
but chose not to, he said.
"If someone gave me 20,000 rupees, I would do it," he
said, citing a price of about USD 235.
"The government is not interested in eliminating them
permanently," he said.
"The Pakistani military establishment has become
habituated to using proxies", he said adding that there were
many sympathisers in the military who still supported the use
Pakistan has 12,000 to 14,000 fully trained Kashmiri
fighters, scattered throughout various camps in Pakistan, and
is holding them in reserve to use if needed in a war against
India, he said.
Yet, Pakistan has been losing the fight for Kashmir, and
most Kashmiris now want independence and not to be part of
Pakistan or India, he said.
Since Sept 11 2001, Pakistan has redirected much of its
attention away from Kashmir to Afghanistan, and many Kashmiri
fighters are not interested in that fight and have taken up
India`s offer of an amnesty to go home.
"The Taliban lost a whole government for one person," he
said, again referring to Bin Laden.
"And Pakistan went to war just for a few generals and
now for President Zardari," he said, referring to Asif Ali
"Many of the thousands of trained Pakistani fighters
turned against the military because it treated them so
carelessly", he said.
"Pakistan used them and then, like a paper tissue, threw
them away," he said.
Indeed, he was first trained for a year by the Pakistani
militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba at a camp in Kunar Province, in
Afghanistan, in the early 1990s.
The war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan was over,
and Pakistan turned to training fighters for an insurgency in
the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.
He became skilled at firing Russian-made
rocket-propelled grenades, and he was sent to fight, and train
others, in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan.
Over the years he worked with different militant groups,
and he estimated that he personally trained up to 4,000
The entire enterprise was supported by the Pakistani
military and executed by Pakistani militant groups, he said.