RELATIONS between the US and Pakistan, which have been particularly fraught for much of this year, took an unprecedented dive last week following Adm Mike Mullen’s congressional testimony implicating the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate in the Haqqani network’s dramatic and deadly breach of security in what is deemed to be the safest part of Kabul.
The siege was a thorough embarrassment for the US, challenging the idea that conditions in Afghanistan are steadily improving. It is instructive to recall that the Mujahideen never managed anything quite so dramatic during the Soviet occupation of the country — the era when Charlie Wilson, the Democratic congressman who made American support for the jihad his personal mission, described Jalaluddin Haqqani as “goodness personified”.
Some of the inheritors of Wilson’s trigger-happy mentality are now willing to countenance an invasion of North Waziristan to eradicate the Haqqanis.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, which has for years resisted American pressure to mount a military assault on North Waziristan, has busily been devoting its energies to denying the charge of complicity and decrying the “blame game”.
However, Mullen, the retiring chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a frequent visitor to Pakistan, could not possibly have been unaware of the gravity of his charge. It would have been hugely irresponsible to base it on hearsay. Reports suggest that the evidence consists of intercepted communications between the attackers and ISI representatives.
The Pakistani denials have been equally vehement, but it’s not hard to discern a crucial difference of tone between statements from the civilian establishment and the military authorities. Of particular interest is Gen Ashfaq Kayani’s comment that the Americans are well aware of exactly which countries maintain contacts with the Haqqanis, implying that Pakistan isn’t the only one.
It’s no doubt worth noting that a couple of years ago the US declined to formally declare the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organisation, and there have been suggestions that the US would not be entirely averse to dealing with the Haqqanis under certain circumstances.
What’s more, claims by the Pakistani military that the group now operates mostly out of eastern Afghanistan have lately been corroborated by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who recently told Reuters: “Gone are the days when we were hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Now we consider ourselves more secure in Afghanistan.…”
According to a report in The New York Times last week, “Over the past five years, with relatively few American troops operating in eastern Afghanistan, the Haqqanis have run what is in effect a protection racket for construction firms — meaning that American taxpayers are helping to finance the enemy network.”
The report also speaks of a mini-state in Miramshah “with courts, tax offices and radical madressah schools producing a ready supply of fighters”, as well as real estate and car sales operations in Pakistan and smuggling and extortion activities.
“But the group is not just a two-bit mafia,” the NYT claims. “It is an organised mafia using high-profile terrorist attacks on hotels, embassies and other targets to advance its agenda to become a power broker in a future political settlement. And, sometimes, the agenda of its patrons … the ISI.”
The connection has long been alleged and never convincingly denied, although its exact nature remains speculative, with suggestions that it’s much murkier than a direct line of command.
American angst at evidence of direct contacts during the Sept 13-14 attack, following suspicion of collaboration during previous terrorist assaults on the InterContinental Hotel last June and on the Indian embassy in Kabul three years ago, is unsurprising. Options for an effective response, however, are far less clear. Suspension of aid would send a message but may well provoke an undesirable reaction. Intensified drone strikes, too, are likely to be counterproductive.
Former CIA field officer Robert Baer, who has a reputation for being bluntly realistic, writes in Time magazine that an attempt by the US “to destroy the Haqqani base in North Waziristan by invading Pakistan … would require more troops than we currently have in Afghanistan” and “would obviously destroy whatever relations we still have with Pakistan, with profoundly dangerous consequences in Afghanistan and beyond”.
According to Baer, the US needs to dispense with the notion “that the ISI is somehow a rogue organisation outside of [the Pakistani military establishment’s] chain of command”, and that the Americans have erred in not taking into account Pakistan’s strategic interests.
“Accepting Pakistan’s post-conflict agenda and backing off on the Haqqanis at [Hamid] Karzai’s expense is too bitter a pill for Washington to swallow in an election year, so we’ll muddle through for another year,” he concludes. “But when the US finally leaves, don’t be surprised to see the Haqqanis in Kabul.”
That’s not a terribly optimistic assessment, but Baer is by no means the only American intelligence analyst to suggest that Pakistan’s actions are essentially motivated by security considerations vis-à-vis India. That may not be too much of an exaggeration, although the internal consequences of cooperating with terrorists should by now be all too clear.
Ultimately, the only way out of this destructive mindset lies in abandoning all forms of jihad and normalising relations with India. That would, of course, require a concerted effort from both sides. The burdens of the past — not least the recent past — render it hard but not impossible.It is not hard to understand why the Pakistan Army would rather not be seen, internally or externally, as a proxy force for the US. Pakistan stands to benefit enormously, however, if it could begin to diminish the India-fixated underpinnings of its raison d’être.
Unfortunately, any such development is extremely unlikely to occur before the so-called endgame in Afghanistan plays out. Any meaningful new beginning for the region, however, cannot be restricted to that benighted nation.