The release of some of the documents captured in the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair has underlined the tangled web that State sponsorship of terror has made Pakistan weave. Bin Laden’s own words reveal that the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in effect has become a sponsor, victim and intermediary among a constellation of terror groups. One document has the late al Qaeda leader trying to negotiate a truce with the ISI, saying that if the Pakistan military stopped attacking him and his allies he would persuade his ally the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) to stop attacking them. “If you were to leave us and our affairs alone, we would leave you alone,” is the message. He uses the TTP as a threat and the Haqqani network as a messenger — two independent terror groups that function in the badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan — with the ISI. There is no shortage of irony in this threat. The TTP is a breakaway group from the original Taliban that was created by the Pakistani government and has now become the latter’s most determined enemy.
Pakistan’s military has a long history of sponsoring terrorist groups — the Lashkar-e-Taiba against India, the Taliban to further its influence in Afghanistan, and so on — despite minimal evidence that this policy has helped Islamabad further any of its national goals. What has certainly happened is that many of these groups treat Pakistan itself as a legitimate target.
The use of terror by a government is not unique to Pakistan. India’s initial backing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Israel’s support for the Islamic Jihad or Iran’s flirtations with both the Taliban and al Qaeda are other examples of this short-sighted policy. The difference is that in most of these cases, governments learnt the lesson that terrorists are almost impossible to control and their culture of violence extracts too high a political price for any sensible benefit. Pakistan alone seems unable to come to this conclusion. It continues to use the Afghan Taliban and other groups to beat the Kabul government into submission and drive the minimal Indian presence out of that country, even while battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban. The terrorist ecosystem it has spawned is now threatening China and attracting ISIS. The documents in effect show bin Laden treating the ISI as being on a par with the Taliban and his own al Qaeda— as a rogue organisation which can be persuaded to do his bidding. It is a stark testament of the threat Pakistan’s military poses to its own country.