Pakistani soldiers stand guard on a street after suicide bombers attacked a Christian neighborhood in Khyber Agency near Peshawar, Pakistan, on September 2, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Fayaz Aziz
Pakistani soldiers stand guard on a street after suicide bombers attacked a Christian neighborhood in Khyber Agency near Peshawar, Pakistan, on September 2, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Fayaz Aziz

Pakistani media have reported that former Lieutenant-General Shahid Aziz, who served as the director general for military operations of the Pakistan Army and chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, was killed in Afghanistan some time ago.

Pakistan naturally was discomfited by the report, hence another news report stated that Aziz was killed in a “neighboring country,” while former military ruler Pervez Musharraf said Aziz was killed in Syria – an obvious cover-up.

What Aziz was doing in Afghanistan is not difficult to gauge – assisting operation “Al Khandaq,” the Taliban’s summer offensive launched last month against the Afghan government. But the involvement of Pakistani military in Afghanistan is not new.

During the US invasion of Afghanistan, a weak division of Pakistani regulars and some 9,000 Pakistani Taliban were fighting inside Afghanistan in support of Afghan Taliban. But Musharraf prevailed upon the US to air-evacuate them from Kunduz and Khost.

In 2007, the British Special Air Service  killed a Taliban commander in Helmand province who was identified as Pakistani army officer by the military ID on his body. Britain tried to conceal this fact, which led to a spat with then Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Similarly, in April 2016, Pakistani General Nida Mohammad Nadim, head of the Taliban’s military branch for the provinces of Faryab, Badghis, Sar-e Pol and Ghor, was killed in northern Afghanistan. Hence Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security has repeatedly accused Pakistan of having regulars fighting inside Afghanistan in support of Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis.

US-Pakistan relations have seen diplomatic spats in recent times, with each side placing restrictions on diplomats of the other side. But despite the mounting evidence of a Pakistani hand in exporting terror, the US stance has not changed much from yesteryear despite President Donald Trump’s warning to Pakistan while unveiling his new Afghanistan-Pakistan policy on August 21, 2017.

He warned Pakistan: “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism but Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars but at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.  But that will have to change, and that will change immediately.”

However, Trump’s warning “that will have to change, and that will change immediately,” has had little effect. The recent statement by Dana White, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, follows the same old script.

While briefing the media on May 17, she said, “Pakistan is both the victim and sponsor of terrorism. We believe that Pakistan can certainly do more with respect to regional security. It can certainly do more with respect to security within Afghanistan, and we would look to them and hope that they would both [Pakistan and Afghanistan] help, because they are both victims of terrorism and they’ve also sponsored terrorism. So we look to Pakistan to create more opportunities to secure the region.”

Both Trump’s and White’s statements of the Pakistani public suffering greatly from terrorism and that Pakistan is also a victim of terror echo the line voiced by China – creating the impression of “poor little” Pakistan. But in October 2011, it was Hillary Rodham Clinton, then US secretary of state, who was more direct when in a joint news conference with the Pakistani foreign minister at the time, Hina Rabbani, said: “You know, it’s like the old story: You can’t keep snakes in your back yard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.”

The fact remains that since President Trump’s warning, Pakistani-sponsored violence has increased both in India and Afghanistan. Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement on the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008, clearly establishes his country as a terror-sponsoring state and involvement of the Pakistani military, but White, when asked for comments during her above media briefing, simply stated, “Again, this is an inflection point for Pakistan. Pakistan has decisions to make, and we hope that they will be a partner in safeguarding the region.”

In 2012, Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment recommended that the US must, either in conjunction with Pakistan or unilaterally, act against the Islamist militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, and wrote,  “At some point, Pakistan must either act to eradicate or demobilize LeT, or allow it to resume its murderous rampage.”

But what Pakistan did instead was the complete opposite. Not only did the LeT flourish, it was allowed to transform into Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) and such subsidiaries as the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). Hafiz Saeed, chief of the LeT, despite being designated as a “global terrorist” by the US, is a free man, provided personal security by the state, and can contest elections.

With US and other foreign forces deployed in Afghanistan, America’s focus on Pakistan’s proxy war is naturally more on Afghanistan and less on India – if at all. But Pakistan’s organization for the former too is institutionalized.

Directorate “S” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and ISI’s Afghan Logistics Cell, in conjunction with the Special Service Group, handle Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan. The Afghan Logistics Cell is a transport network inside Pakistan facilitated by members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps that provides logistical support to the Taliban and their families. This includes space, weapons, vehicles, protection, money, identity cards and safe passage.

Clearly, the US and the United Nations need to do more to bring Pakistan to heel in order to stabilize the region.

The author retired as lieutenant general from the Indian Army's Special Forces.