During a trip to Afghanistan last week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta chastised Pakistan for its ongoing support for the Haqqani Network – an insurgency organization that is closely tied to al Qaeda. The Haqqani Network has long been a proxy of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), which has denied American requests to limit the insurgents’ operations. The Pakistani-backed Haqqanis have even been brazen enough to launch attacks on the American embassy in Kabul.
With respect to the ISID-Haqqani relationship, Panetta warned: “we are reaching the limits of our patience.” Panetta complained, according to the Associated Press, that Pakistan allows “terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces.”
Despite protesting Pakistan’s loyalty to the Haqqanis “time and time again,” and promising to “continue to do that,” Pakistan has remained intractable.
In a press conference half a world away, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Panetta’s comments. “It's our view that those Haqqani, notably, the Haqqani network, is as big a threat to Pakistan as it is to Afghanistan and to us, but we haven't been able to find common ground on that point. So that's been very frustrating,” Dempsey said.
The United States is “extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect that Pakistan has had on the Haqqanis,” Dempsey added.
When the complete history of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan is written, Pakistan’s duplicitous behavior will play a starring role. There was a time when the Taliban was thought to be all but defeated in Afghanistan. But the Haqqanis and other Taliban factions, aided by al Qaeda, came roaring back. One need only look south and east of Afghanistan’s border to figure out why. This jihadist axis continues to be dangerous to Afghanistan’s future despite being weakened in some ways by a short-lived surge in American forces and other measures.
Panetta, Dempsey and other Obama administration officials are right to continue to point to Pakistan’s lethal assistance for the insurgency. Even when the ISID is simply turning a blind eye to the insurgents’ operations inside Pakistan it is complicit in the killing of Americans and their allies.
There’s just one problem with America’s warnings: No one has come up with any way to change Pakistan’s behavior. Various measures have been suggested, including cutting off aid, but none have been taken in earnest. And Pakistan has no reason to change its course with respect to Afghanistan as American forces are scheduled to be drawn down further.
Pakistan’s policy of supporting radical jihadist proxies will remain unchanged. Quite simply, there is no “common ground” between the U.S. and Pakistan on this.
Something else Panetta has said about Pakistan comes to mind. During an interview with 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley earlier this year, and re-aired on June 10, Panetta was asked about Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Keep in mind that the Haqqanis were bin Laden’s longtime allies.
Pelley: Elements of the Pakistani government knew [bin Laden] was there?
Panetta: I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound. Don't forget, this compound had 18 foot walls around it. Twelve foot walls in some areas, 18 foot walls elsewhere, a seven foot wall on the third balcony of the house. It was the largest compound in the area. So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, "What the hell's goin' on there?"
Pelley: Is that why you recommended we not tell the Pakistanis that we were coming?
Panetta: We had seen some military helicopters actually going over this compound.
Pelley: Pakistani military helicopters?
Panetta: And for that reason, it concerned us that, if we, in fact, brought 'em into it, that they might give him, give bin Laden a heads up.
Like the history of the Afghan war, Pakistan will play a starring role in the historians’ biographies of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.