“I think it is in the U.S. interest to go after the threats to Pakistan because our policy and long-term interests are to have a stable Pakistan,” said Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank.
The senior intelligence official said U.S. offers of additional training and intelligence support have been turned down by Islamabad, where suspicions of U.S. motives run deep.
“We could share more,” the senior intelligence official said. “They actually aren’t opening up as much as we would like them to.”
The existence of a haven for Pakistani militants inside Afghanistan feeds the distrust that has developed between the United States and Pakistan since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, said Moeed Yusuf, who heads the Pakistan program at the United States Institute of Peace.
“Both sides have really been caught up for a long time in the blame game,” he said.
The number of insurgents taking refuge in the border region has increased in recent years, particularly on the Afghan side, according to the congressional staffer, who follows the region closely.
Besides small numbers of al-Qaeda fighters, the militant population includes the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and a growing number of Punjabi extremists involved in the Kashmir border conflict with India, according to U.S. officials and outside experts.
“It’s a jihadi soup,” said the congressional staffer.
Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio because he uses a mobile clandestine radio transmitter to broadcast didactic speeches denouncing girls’ education, music and all things Western, sought safety in Afghanistan sometime in 2009. He fled Paksitan after leading a gruesome campaign in Swat Valley, seeking to impose his extreme interpretation of Sharia law through beheadings, floggings, bombing girls’ schools and killing hundreds of civilians, Pakistani police and soldiers.
A U.S. defense official familiar with the tribal structure of the region said Fazlullah has found sanctuary in Konar and Nuristan through personal ties with tribal leaders. His fighters have launched numerous attacks across the border that U.S. defense officials say are intended to raise Fazlullah’s profile and make the Pakistani army look weak.
In June, about 100 of Fazlullah’s fighters crossed the border into Pakistan and beheaded 17 soldiers. A year earlier, they had captured 16 Pakistani policemen and executed them by firing squad.
But it was the attempt to assassinate 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai on Oct. 9 that pushed Fazlullah into the international limelight.
Since she was 11, Malala had been an outspoken champion of the right of girls to attend school. Last month, she was on her school van when gunmen boarded the bus and shot her twice at close range. Two classmates were also wounded. All three survived and Malala is recuperating in Britain.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and U.S. intelligence officials say evidence points to Fazlullah as the person who ordered it.
The shooting galvanized Pakistan and many other Muslim countries. Muslim clerics in Pakistan denounced the violence and thousands protested in Pakistan. Perhaps feeling pressure from a worldwide condemnation, the Pakistani Taliban released a seven-page justification for the shooting.
But condemnation from Washington has been purposefully muted. Although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the attackers, others have not done so for fear of a backlash from Pakistan, where conspiracies about U.S. involvement in the country are rife and anti-American sentiment high.
Pakistani authorities have arrested at least 30 people for questioning, but say they have not yet found the shooters or their leader, Fazlullah.