The Pakistan military continues to nurture militant groups as part of a decades-old strategy of using proxies against India and against US forces in Afghanistan, but now some of the fighters it trained are questioning that strategy, a former militant commander has said.
The ex-commander said he was supported by Pakistan's military for 15 years until he quit some years ago. In an interview to The New York Times - on condition that his personal details not be revealed - he said groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen were run by religious leaders with the Pakistan military providing training, strategic planning and protection.
"There are two bodies running affairs - mullahs and retired generals," he said. He named a number of former military officials, one of them being Maj Gen Zaheer ul-Islam Abbasi, who is now dead. He said he saw Abbasi several times - once at a meeting of Taliban and Pakistani militant leaders in 2001; and twice in Mir Ali, the centre for foreign militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.
He said several retired ISI officials were also there at the Taliban meeting in 2001, including one Brig Sultan Amir.
The military supports militants because it wants them as tools against India and the US, he said. For instance, he said, Pakistan could easily kill Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud but chose not to. "The government is not interested in eliminating them permanently. The military has become habituated to using proxies."
But like him, he said, many of the thousands of trained fighters have turned against the military. "Pakistan used them and then, like a paper tissue, threw them away," he said.