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Frenemies in Pakistan

Oct 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04 • By ​MAX BOOT
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The fact remains that the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as U.S. soldiers. For example, we believe the Haqqani Network​—​which has 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​—​is responsible for the September 13th attacks against the U.S. embassy in Kabul. There is ample evidence confirming that the Haqqanis were behind the June 28th attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and the September 10th truck bomb attack that killed five Afghans and injured another 96 individuals, 77 of whom were U.S. soldiers.

—Admiral Michael Mullen,
Senate Armed Services Committee, September 22, 2011

With those carefully chosen words, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff blew away the increasingly shaky pretense that Pakistan is our ally, not our enemy. The statement carried all the more weight because Admiral Mullen, more than any other senior official in Washington, has been so heavily invested in cultivating relations with Pakistan. He has visited Islamabad 27 times since 2008 and worked hard to establish bonds of trust with General Ashfaq Kayani, his Pakistani counterpart. As he told the Wall Street Journal: “I have been Pakistan’s best friend. What does it say when I am at that point?”

It says that Washington is finally facing the fact that its policy of engagement has failed. Not all of Washington, to be sure: Some anonymous administration officials leaked word to the Washington Post last week that Mullen’s assertions were “overstated.” But their defense of Pakistan, if that’s what it was, can hardly mollify Islamabad. One of the officials quoted in the Post said of the Haqqani Network: “Can they control them like a military unit? We don’t think so. Do they encourage them? Yes. Do they provide some finance for them? Yes. Do they provide safe havens? Yes.”

Those “yeses” are an indication that Mullen was right: The Haqqani Network is a “strategic arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, even if ISI generals can’t order them around like a platoon on the battlefield. The same might be said of the Quetta Shura Taliban, and for that matter Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistan-based terrorist groups: All are ISI proxies, and, like the Haqqanis, they are killing Americans and U.S. allies.

Simply to acknowledge the point in public, as Mullen has done, is a major step forward​—​a welcome willingness to face difficult truths. The question now becomes what do we do about it. This is where all previous attempts to deal with the Pakistani menace have foundered because of the risk of retaliation. The Pakistanis have real leverage they can use against us. Half of all nonlethal supplies delivered by ground to Afghanistan​—​everything from diesel fuel to ice cream​—​comes on trucks from the Pakistani port of Karachi. Interrupt those supply lines, as the Pakistanis occasionally do to send a message, and the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan will suffer.

Moreover, even while aiding some terrorist groups, Pakistan has provided valuable cooperation against others, allowing U.S. armed drones, for example, to operate out of a Pakistani airfield to kill al Qaeda operatives. The Pakistanis have even mounted offensives into some tribal territories against groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban) which, unlike the Haqqanis or the Afghan Taliban, are seen as a threat to the Pakistani state. Presumably, if Washington were to come down hard on Pakistan, we could see a halt to the limited, yet still significant, antiterrorist cooperation we have been receiving.

In the past, Pakistani threats of retaliation were enough to convince U.S. officials to ignore Pakistani misbehavior​—​even incidents such as one in 2007, reported last week in the New York Times, where Pakistani troops fired on an American military delegation, killing one officer and wounding others. But Pakistan’s leverage is not as great as it once was. The death of Osama bin Laden and most of his senior lieutenants has badly hurt the capabilities of al Qaeda central, putting “the defeat of al Qaeda’s leadership and dismantlement of its operational capabilities in the region .  .  . within reach,” as Mullen told the Senate.

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