During congressional testimony on Thursday, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of sponsoring terrorist attacks on an American embassy and coalition forces. The allegations, while startling, are hardly surprising. (See, for example, here, here and here.) Pakistan’s ISI has long sponsored the main insurgency groups, including the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network, seeking to overthrow the post-Taliban Afghan government. But now, the ISI is apparently orchestrating brazen attacks against American forces.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted [a Sept. 10] truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.”
The truck bomb attack Mullen referenced was, as the New York Times reports, “one of the worst for foreign forces in a single episode in the 10-year-old war.”
The attack on the American embassy occurred on September 13, and was a complex, coordinated assault involving suicide bombers and rocket attacks. It also coincided with a simultaneous assault on the nearby NATO headquarters.
Make no mistake about it: Mullen’s charges directly implicate Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency in the war against American forces, America’s allies, the Afghan government and the Afghan people.
Why is the administration making this case now? Such allegations cannot be made without repercussions. But how does the administration plan on holding Pakistan accountable?
In his written testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mullen mentioned the possibility of sanctions. “The actions by the Pakistani government to support [the Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani Network]—actively and passively—represent a growing problem that is undermining U.S. interests and may violate international norms, potentially warranting sanction.”
Sanctions are unlikely to stop Pakistan’s jihad, but they may be the only possible stick. Carrots—billions of dollars in aid—have only bought limited cooperation against al Qaeda, leaving al Qaeda’s many jihadist allies in Pakistan virtually untouched.
The Haqqani Network, in particular, is tightly allied with al Qaeda. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the nominal head of the group, became an ally of Osama bin Laden in the 1980s and remains a believer in the same ideology that motivates al Qaeda’s terror. Jalaluddin’s son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and other family members are the real power inside the Haqqani Network. Sirajuddin also holds his father’s seat on al Qaeda’s elite Shura council, according to U.S. intelligence officials who track the Haqqanis closely. The Haqqanis have long sheltered al Qaeda members in their stronghold in northern Pakistan. The Pakistani military refuses to disrupt the Haqqani-al Qaeda sanctuaries.
Mullen was explicit about the ISI’s relationship with the Haqqani Network, saying that the Haqqani’s have “long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.” Therefore, the Pakistani ISI’s favorite terror proxy is also one of al Qaeda’s closest allies.
Ten years after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan remains one of the most problematic state sponsors of terrorism in the world. The Obama administration deserves credit for exposing and making plain Pakistan’s role in this war. But the president’s decision to withdraw significant American forces from Afghanistan has probably emboldened Pakistan’s terror sponsorship. The American-led surge of forces was our only real hope for influencing Pakistan’s behavior—by showing Pakistan and the region that America was committed to the fight. As American forces prepare to draw down, Pakistan’s terror sponsorship is only getting worse.
So we are left to wonder: What will the U.S. government do about this “growing problem,” as Mullen put it? Pakistan cannot be allowed to sponsor terrorist attacks against Western forces and Afghans with impunity.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.