In a damning report, the Pentagon has said Afghan-oriented militant groups, including the Taliban and Haqqani Network, benefit from “support” from elements of the Pakistan government. “Pakistan views the outcome of Afghanistan to be in its vital national interest and thus remains driven by its India-centric regional policy objectives,” the Pentagon said in its latest Afghan report, the first under the Trump administration. Running into nearly 100 pages, the report identifies Pakistan as the most influential external actor affecting Afghanistan’s stability and the outcome of the missions in this war-torn country.
“Afghan-oriented militant groups, including the Taliban and Haqqani Network, retain freedom of action inside Pakistani territory and benefit from support from elements of the Pakistani Government,” the report said. “Although Pakistani military operations have disrupted some militant sanctuaries, certain extremist groups —such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network—were able to relocate and continue to operate in and from Pakistan,” the report said.
The US continues to convey to Pakistan at all levels the importance of taking action against all terrorist and extremist groups, it said. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network, Lashkar- e-Tayyiba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, it said.
“Sanctuary on the Pakistan side and presence on the Afghan side remain a security challenge for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability,” it noted. Interestingly, the Pentagon report comes days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden meeting with US President Donald Trump during which the issue of terrorism will be one of the topics of discussion.
Noting that Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from an externally-enabled insurgency with as many as 20 total terrorist organisations operating in the country, the highest concentration of terrorist groups in the world, the report said these pervasive insurgent terrorist and criminal networks constitute a threat to Afghanistan’s stability. Increased collaboration between Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical to maintaining pressure on militant and terrorist groups and for meeting the enduring security requirements on both sides of the shared border, the Pentagon said.
The trust deficit resulting from Pakistan’s support of and inaction against Afghan-oriented extremists hampers the bilateral military collaboration required to achieve enduring security, the Pentagon acknowledged. Since the beginning of President Ashraf Ghani’s tenure, leaders from both countries have made several attempts to improve relations and to address mutual security interests more effectively, such as the threat from various extremist groups that reside in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, it said.
“These efforts have largely ceased following major high-profile terrorist attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and public statements by each government disparaging one another. Each country publicly claims that the other provides sanctuary to certain militant groups and lacks the will to combat them,” the Pentagon said.