July 4, 2011


[The former commander said that 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. Well known in militant circles but accustomed to a covert existence, he gave an interview to The New York Times on the condition that his name, location and other personal details not be revealed.]


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and American forces in Afghanistan, but now some of the fighters it trained are questioning that strategy, a prominent former militant commander says.
The former commander said that 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. Well known in militant circles but accustomed to a covert existence, he gave an interview to The New York Times on the condition that his name, location and other personal details not be revealed.
Militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen, are run by religious leaders, with the Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and protection. That system was still functioning, he said.
The former commander’s account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory. The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counterterrorism operations. Still, the former commander said, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American and NATO forces.
“There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals,” he said. He named a number of former military officials involved in the program, 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 center 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 commander said. 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 Abbasi. The militant groups divided Afghanistan into separate areas of operations and discussed how to “trip up America,” he said.
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 successful.
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 archrival, 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 $235.
“The government is not interested in eliminating them permanently,” he said. “The Pakistani military establishment has become habituated to using proxies.” He added that there were many sympathizers in the military who still supported the use of militants.
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, 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.
Others, like the former commander, have gotten out because of their disillusionment over the way they were being used to fight Osama bin Laden’s war, or used for the aims of a few top generals who had allied Pakistan with the United States to gain access to its military and financial aid. “There are a lot of people who do not think they are doing the right thing,” he said of the military.
“This is extremely wrong to sacrifice 16,000 people for a single person,” he said, referring to Bin Laden. “A person should sacrifice himself for 16,000 people.” He said he was using the figure of 16,000 just as an example.
“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 Zardari. “A real war is for a country.”
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. “Look at me, I am a very well-trained fighter and I have no other option in life, except to fight and take revenge.”
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 fighters.
The entire enterprise was supported by the Pakistani military and executed by Pakistani militant groups, he said. He was paid by a wing of the ISI, which is an integral part of the army.
Fighters were paid about $50 a month, he said, and commanders about $500.
But now, he said, Pakistan and the United States would be much better able to counter terrorism if they could redirect the legions of militants toward the correct path of Islam to rebuild and educate communities, he said.
Pakistan, and especially America, needs to understand the true spirit of Islam, and they need to project the true spirit of Islam,” he said. “That would be a good strategy to stop them.”
@ The New York Times


[The Afghan Foreign Ministry has met twice with Pakistan’s ambassador here over the shelling. Three high-level meetings also have been held, including one in which President Hamid Karzai spoke directly to President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan when both men were in Tehran for a conference, and another attended by the head of the Pakistani Army. The shelling has not stopped.]
KABUL, Afghanistan — Rocket and artillery shells fired from Pakistan have killed 42 Afghans and wounded 48 in three provinces of easternAfghanistan over the last five weeks, according to local Afghan security officials and tribal elders who have strongly protested the assaults over the last several days and demanded that the Afghan government protect them.
The attacks have puzzled and angered Afghan politicians and Western diplomats here who have said privately that they hope the attacks will stop before villagers in the attacked areas take up arms themselves. It is not clear who is responsible for the attacks, which are taking place in remote border areas where the boundary between the two countries is imprecise and where insurgents move back and forth easily.
Pakistan’s military has acknowledged its forces have sometimes shelled suspected militants fleeing into Afghanistan, but not on the scale and intensity alleged by Afghanistan.
“We are seriously concerned about Pakistan’s ongoing shelling of Afghan villages and causing harm to Afghan civilians and Afghan properties,” said Janan Mosazai, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry. “We call for an immediate and full cessation of this shelling.”
The Afghan Foreign Ministry has met twice with Pakistan’s ambassador here over the shelling. Three high-level meetings also have been held, including one in which President Hamid Karzai spoke directly to President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan when both men were in Tehran for a conference, and another attended by the head of the Pakistani Army. The shelling has not stopped.
“It is obviously a serious situation,” Simon Gass, the NATO senior civilian representative, said in an interview on Sunday. “The border there is disputed; there has been a strong reaction in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that a diplomatic solution was needed.
The long, wild and mountainous region that runs from Nuristan through Kunar to Nangarhar is patrolled almost exclusively by the Afghan border police. NATO has little or no presence there and a spokesman said NATO was unsure what has precipitated the shooting.
The most recent attack was on July 1 when a Pakistani helicopter flew into Afghan territory and bombed a house, said Gen. Aminullah Amerkhail, the chief of the Afghan border police for the eastern part of the country.
“Seven hundred families have been displaced, 42 people have been killed, including some women and children, and 48 villagers have been injured,” in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan, General Amerkhail said.
“We have recognized these rounds,” he said, referring to the shell fragments found in the attacked areas. “They are the Pakistani rounds.”
Members of Parliament, upset that the government and particularly the president had not spoken out more critically, summoned the ministers of defense, interior and the intelligence service on Saturday and asked them for a briefing. “Their explanations were not acceptable at all,” said Mohammed Naiem Hamidzai Lalai, chairman of the Internal Security Committee. “The president is not taking a serious position against the shelling by Pakistanis.”
Mr. Lalai added: “We don’t exactly know what the Pakistani government’s intentions are from the shelling, but most probably they have some bad intentions for our country.”
General Amerkhail and several dozen tribal elders gathered in Jalalabad, the largest city in eastern Afghanistan, on Saturday to press the Afghan government to take a strong stand against the attacks. He offered his resignation, but it was not accepted.
“We all gathered to ask the government to stop the bombings and attacks by Pakistani forces,” said Malik Darwish Lalpoorwal, a tribal elder from Lalpoor district in Nangarhar Province, one of the three provinces where the Pakistanis have shot over the border. “Why should our people die without any reason? They have made many women into widows and many children into orphans. Please stop it.” He threatened, along with the other elders, “to fight them with our bare hands.”
In the Pakistani media, the army has indicated that its forces shot into Afghanistan in the process of pursuing Pakistani Taliban fighters who had fled into Afghanistan. Afghan security officials say that is unlikely, in part because the Pakistanis have not launched a major offensive against the Taliban in those provinces recently. The Afghan officials also say such an explanation does not justify the launching of scores of rockets.
“One or 2 or 10 rounds, yes, that could be if they were chasing the Taliban,” General Amerkhail said. “But how come 800 rounds? So it seems they are intentionally targeting our innocent people.”
Sangar Rahimi and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul, and a New York Times employee from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 4, 2011
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry. He is Janan Mosazai, not Janan Musa Zai.