Pakistan’s government says it is “disappointed” by a US State Department report on the country’s counterterrorism track record, with a foreign ministry statement declaring the report “self-contradictory and selective”.
Earlier this week, the State Department issued its annual country reports on terrorism for 2019, singling Pakistan out for particular criticism.
“We are disappointed with the US State Department’s Annual Country Report on Terrorism for 2019, which is self-contradictory and selective in its characterisation of Pakistan’s efforts for countering terrorism and terrorist financing,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
The United States has long accused Pakistan of tacitly supporting the Afghan Taliban and its allies, including the Haqqani Network (HQN) armed group, in their fight against US-led NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The two countries have also worked together against other armed groups, including al-Qaeda, in the region, in a relationship that has been marked by continued engagement despite sustained mistrust.
Matters reached a low point in January 2018, when US President Donald Trump cut more than $1.1bn in security assistance to Pakistan, accusing the country of supporting the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan has consistently denied the allegations, although in 2016 the then Pakistani foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz had admitted that the government did have limited influence over the group.
Elements of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership have been based out of a town outside the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta for years. In May 2016, then Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan while en route to Quetta.
The US State Department report this week repeated those concerns.
“Pakistan continued to serve as a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups,” it said. “It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN, as well as groups targeting India, including LeT [Lashkar e-Taiba] and its affiliated front organisations, and JeM [Jaish e-Muhammad], to operate from its territory.”
‘Reject insinuation about safe haven’
Pakistan has been battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – an umbrella organisation of armed groups that is also known as the Pakistani Taliban – since it was formed in 2007 with the stated objective of overthrowing the government and establishing a state based on a strict interpretation of Islam.
In 2014, the country launched a widescale military operation to take on the TTP, succeeding in displacing the group from its erstwhile headquarters in the North Waziristan district along the border with Afghanistan.
Violence has seen a corresponding drop across the country, with far fewer suicide bombings and targeted attacks reported in 2019 compared with previous years.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry defended the country’s track record on fighting the armed groups in its statement on Thursday.
“The [US] report acknowledges the sharp decrease in the incidence of terrorist attacks in Pakistan,” said the statement. “However, it neglects to explain that this was only possible because Pakistan’s resolute counterterrorism operations have targeted proscribed groups and outfits without discrimination.”
Pakistan also denied that it provided safe havens to any armed group.
“We reject any insinuation about any safe haven,” the statement said. “Pakistan will not allow any group or entity to use its territory against any country. On the contrary, it is Pakistan that faces the threat of terrorism from externally based and foreign-sponsored groups.”