Guide to the Latest on Pakistan’s Terror Ties


Written by Braden Goyette, a writer ProPublica

The U.S. has long had a love-hate relationship with Pakistan, sending it billions of dollars in aid while suspecting, and occasionally accusing, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, of supporting terrorist groups.

The evidence and allegations of those connections have been coming so quickly it’s been hard to keep track of it all. What exactly are the United States’ claims? What proof does it have, and which groups does it suspect the ISI has collaborated with? Here’s our breakdown of the basics. (And here’s an earlier guide we did as well.)

The latest U.S. accusations against Pakistan

On Sept. 13, members of a Pakistan-based insurgent group called the Haqqani network laid siege to the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A detailed New York Times piece on the Haqqanis described them as “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, a ruthless crime family that built an empire out of kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, even trucking.”

The attack lasted 20 hours and killed 27 people, including insurgents. It was the most direct attack on the U.S. embassy since it reopened almost a decade ago. American officials told the New York Times that the attackers had placed calls to Pakistani intelligence agents from their cell phones.

Shortly after the attacks, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Pakistan for providing a safe haven to the Haqqani network and said that the United States would do “everything we can to defend our forces.”

On Sept. 22, Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went much further. He accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of directly supporting the apparent Haqqani attacks in Kabul. Mullen also said the ISI provided support for two other recent attacks: a large truck bombing Sept. 10 and an attack on a Kabul hotel in June.

Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while the ISI does not have operational control over the Haqqani network, it is “in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency” and operates from Pakistan “with impunity.”

U.S. officials have long suggested that the ISI has kept ties with the Haqqanis as a way to maintain influence in Afghanistan, though none has been as blunt as Mullen was. Pakistan is worried primarily about India and views the Haqqanis as a handy proxy force to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani denied the accusations. Some U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have criticized Mullen’s comments, saying they overstate the situation.

The United States has been frustrated for some time with the Pakistani military’s reluctance to engage militants in North Waziristan, a mountainous area of Pakistan where groups that attack U.S. targets in Afghanistan have found refuge.

Though the Obama administration hasn’t provided details on the steps it would be prepared to take, officials have indicated that the United States would be ready to act unilaterally if Pakistan doesn’t crack down on the Haqqani network and other terror groups within its borders.

Pakistan’s intelligence service linked to more attacks

The ISI has been suspected of collaborating with some terrorists for years. A ProPublica investigation detailed links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 116 and wounded 308, including six Americans. According to trial testimony from David Coleman Headley, a top reconnaissance operative behind the plot, ISI officers helped to fund and plan the attacks and chose American, Western and Jewish targets for Lashkar to attack. The Headley trial marked the first time that U.S. prosecutors had charged an ISI officer with terrorism. You can read our full investigation here.

The New York Times also reported this week that, according to eyewitnesses, a 2007 ambush on American officials was carried out by Pakistani military and intelligence officers. An anonymous U.N. source told the Times that U.S. officials have known this but kept it quiet in the interest of smoothing relations between the two countries. Pakistani soldiers present during the attack claim that a lone, unbalanced member of Pakistan’s border militia opened fire on the Americans.

Pakistan turns a blind eye to other terror groups

As Time magazine detailed this week, Pakistan has also been hesitant to crack down on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a terrorist group that carries out attacks mostly within Pakistan. LeJ is known to train with al-Qaida and has links to the Taliban. The group was also involved in the 2002 killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

According to Time’s report, the military, provincial government, law enforcement and judicial system have all been unable to hold LeJ accountable, empowering the group to attempt bolder attacks.

The group’s leader, Malik Ishaq, was released from prison in July because of a “lack of evidence,” though he is suspected of coordinating a high-profile attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team from prison. Earlier this week, Pakistan put Ishaq under temporary house arrest, and as of yesterday he is reportedly back behind bars. According to the Agence France-Presse, “rights groups say a persistent lack of action from the government has emboldened sectarian militant groups, blamed for the deaths of thousands in past years.”

Pakistan pushes back

The Pakistani Army announced Monday that it has no new plans to go after the Haqqani network despite increased American pressure.

Prime Minister Gilani said that any unilateral entry of his country by U.S. forces to track down terrorists would be a violation of national sovereignty.

Pakistan has increasingly courted China since the United States suspended and canceled millions in aid earlier this summer. While Pakistan has received U.S. aid since the early days of the Cold War, roughly two-thirds of it has come since 9/11—or $20.7 billion since 2002.

This week, Pakistan’s interior minister offered to help crack down on Chinese militants taking refuge in Pakistan.

Other reports of Pakistani officials aiding terrorists

A recent New Yorker piece about Pakistani journalists who’ve been threatened by the ISI included an interview with Fida Muhammad, an ISI agent who claimed he helped Haqqani fighters travel across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. He also claimed that ISI agents had helped a group of insurgents flee from Tora Bora, the area of Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was hiding in 2001, to Pakistan. From the New Yorker:

Muhammad told me that his most memorable job came in December, 2001, when he was part of a large ISI operation intended to help jihadi fighters escape from Tora Bora—the mountainous region where bin Laden was trapped for several weeks, until he mysteriously slipped away. Muhammad said that when the American bombing of Tora Bora began, in late November, he and other ISI operatives had gone there, and into other parts of eastern Afghanistan, to evacuate training camps whose occupants included Al Qaeda fighters.

This post was originally published by ProPublica.


Related Stories:

Al Qaeda’s #2 Killed in Pakistan

American Kidnapped by Gunmen in Eastern Pakistan

Western-Muslim Tensions Getting a Little Better, Study Says


Photo from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via flickr


Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago


Correction, that's NWFP or NorthWest Frontier Provinces. And the author is Ahmed Rashid, a consultant to the U.N. on Pakistan political, economic and military issues throughout Central Asia and the Subcontinent. Greatest living authority on the declassified aspects of these issues.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago

No it's not all the fault of the U.S. or even Russia, though the invasion of Afghanistan didn't help. In a nutshell Pakistan has always been overpopulated and underdeveloped, so it depends on financial aid from the major powers. It has had friendly relations with China as well as the US since the 1950s. Its military establishment believes in 'strategic depth' against India and that has meant supporting Jihadists in Afghanistan and condoning terrorism there and in NWPF. On the other hand, its two biggest donors, the U.S. and China are fighting terrorism so Pakistan has always existed on a knife-edge of "milk the donors but condone the terrorists". Read 'Taliban' and 'Descent into Chaos' by Rashid, he is a native of Pakistan its greatest journalist. Complex political and economic issues, no easy answers.

Parvez Zuberi
Parvez Zuberi6 years ago

Taliban and their off shoots are the creation of Americans who trained them in gorilla war against Russians so your are responsible and not Pakistan who has been crushed and suffered economically and lose of innocent life you dig a grave for some one else you fall into it that is exactly what happen to you Americans to hide the embarrassment of lost war in Afghanistan you find Pakistan as scape goat shame on your GOVT the Rough Bully Coward Nation .The war is over get your forces out of Afghanistan and spend the money on the welfare of your own people

David Menard
David Menard6 years ago

Not one thin dime to Pakistan double dealing terrorist bastards

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

I will be glad when we bring to light all of the garbage, and clean up our planet from the rude boys partying, and personal agendas.

Then we all can have some kind of life with out all of the lies, and personal agendas, running various countries.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

I will be glad when we bring to light all of the garbage, and clean up our planet from the rude boys partying.

Then we all can have some kind of life with out all of the lies, and personal agendas, running various countries.

Barbara S.

IMHO, what's we're being set-up for, here, is another war.... The OLD politicians who are still in charge, and the OLD Pentagon hierarchy still believe that waging war creates jobs. Perhaps they think a war with Pakistan will get us out of our recession/depression. Haven't we spent a 100 times more on this country, than we should have, with little to no progress? I say we should just bring all the troops home from the Middle East, stop funding ANY of those countries, and put our troops to work HERE with all that money - building bridges, reinforcing existing ones, paving our roads and interstates, fixing our crumbling dams and levees, etc. They'd be making a lot more money working in the private sector, as companies like Blackwater already knows.

Thom Loveless
Thom Loveless6 years ago

Noel S
'It's us or the Taliban'

Well currently that's the the 1980's America provided billions of dollars of aid to prevent Russia fighting the Mujahedin in Afghanistan.... not a long way from supporting the Taliban really. Check out who the 'good guy' is in ten years time.

Bernard Cronyn
6 years ago

There is a reassuring consistency in post-WW2 USA foreign relationships - i.e. a series of expensive unmitigated disasters - this being just another. Mind you, the UK and the EU are not much better. Perhaps it is time to collectively look at what is clearly a failed education system. Here we have overpriced institutions like Harvard, Princeton, Oxford Cambridge and others that churn out "leaders" that apart from being unable to connect cause to effect have proved to us their total incapability of balancing a set of accounts and or understanding a banking system.

Ellyn L.
Ellen L6 years ago

a perfet example of frenemy