Pervez Musharraf, a retired four-star general and former president of Pakistan, said that terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, current al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, jihadist group founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the Taliban were once heroes for Pakistan.
In a recent interview on Pakistani television, the former head of the Pakistani army who named himself president in 2001 and resigned in 2008 to avoid impeachment also admitted that, in the 1990s, Islamabad supported and trained terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) to carry out militancy in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Musharraf gave Pakistan credit for starting “religious militancy,” adding that the South Asian country recruited militants from all over the world to fight against the Soviet forces in the region.
Specifically, he explained, Pakistan supported religious militant groups in their efforts against the Soviet troops back in 1979.
“We trained Taliban and sent them to fight against Russia,” Musharraf told Pakistani news channel Dunya News on Sunday. “Taliban, [Jalaluddin] Haqqani, Osama bin Laden and [current al Qaeda leader Ayman al] Zawahiri were our heroes then. Later they became villains,” he told Pakistani news channel Dunya News on Sunday, noting that people need to understand the environment was different at that time.
The Taliban, Jalaluddin’s Haqqani Network, bin Laden, and al Zawahiri are responsible for the deaths of thousands of American civilians and service members, as well as many people from an array of other countries.
Top LeT leaders Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi enjoyed that status of heroes in the 1990s, also noted Musharraf.
“In 1990s the freedom struggle began in Kashmir… At that time Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and 11 or 12 other organizations were formed. We supported them and trained them as they were fighting in Kashmir at the cost of their lives,” said Musharraf.
“The Kashmiri freedom fighters including Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi were our heroes at that time. Later on, the religious militancy turned into terrorism. Now they [terrorists in Pakistan] are killing their own people here and this should be controlled and stopped,” he added.
LeT has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, which is offering a $10 million reward “for information leading to the arrest or conviction” of Saeed, identified as the founder of the Kashmir-focused militant group.
“No comment,” responded Musharraf when asked whether Saeed and Lakhvi should also be “controlled and stopped.”
“Saeed participated in the planning of the 4-day-long terrorist assault on Mumbai [India] in November 2008 that left 166 individuals dead, including six U.S. citizens,” notes the State Department. “Saeed and his organization continue to spread ideology advocating terrorism, as well as virulent rhetoric condemning the United States, India, Israel, and other perceived enemies.”
Saeed was officially linked to al-Qaeda by the United Nations in December 2008 and has been subjected to international sanctions since.
Lakhvi, the supreme commander of LeT operations in Kashmir, is the suspected mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Both Saeed and Lakhvi, who was granted bail by a Pakistani court, roam free in Pakistan.
Kashmir has been divided between Indian and Pakistan since 1947, but the entire region is claimed by both countries.
The U.S. and Afghanistan have accused Pakistan of serving as sanctuary for the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.