Top U.S. officials this week accused Pakistan of abetting a terrorist group responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The bombshell here isn’t Pakistani duplicity—that’s old news—but the Obama administration’s decision to go public. It means Washington finally has run out of patience with our supposed “ally.”
The U.S. complaint centers on the Haqqani network, an Afghan terrorist group holed up in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the network is “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.” He said the ISI helped Haqqani operatives carry out a truck bomb attack that wounded more than 70 U.S. and NATO troops on Sept. 11, as well as a suicide assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The ISI’s ties to Haqqani network date back to the anti-Soviet jihad and subsequent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Apparently, the ISI sees no reason to sever those ties just because the Haqqanis are now killing U.S. and NATO forces instead of Russians. As Mullen explained, the ISI sees the network as a valuable “proxy” that can give Pakistan leverage in Afghanistan, especially after U.S. forces have gone home. There’s another somewhat more sinister explanation: many in the ISI and army hierarchy share an ideological affinity with Islamic terror groups that target both Afghanistan and India.
So is Pakistan really an enemy masquerading as a friend? The situation is complicated because Pakistan has cooperated with the United States in targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban, even as its army rebuffs our pleas to expel the Haqqanis from North Waziristan.
The blunt testimony by Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signals the end of several years of “quiet diplomacy” aimed at getting Pakistan to make a clean break with jihadi terrorism. Outing the ISI may put more pressure on a weak civilian government. However, the Pakistani government is not only looking over its shoulder at the powerful security branches, but also at a public strongly opposed to U.S. infringements of Pakistani sovereignty.
On the other hand, Americans are entitled to ask what we have to show for the $20 billion in U.S. aid sent to Pakistan over the last decade. Last year, Congress approved $1.7 billion for economic aid for Pakistan, and $2.7 billion in security aid. At a minimum, we ought to stop trying to bribe a government that is playing us for fools.
With two wars on its hands, maybe the United States can’t afford a total rupture with Pakistan. But we can’t achieve any kind of lasting success in Afghanistan as long as Pakistan provides a safe refuge to the Haqqanis and other insurgents. That’s a genuine dilemma, but at least U.S. leaders have begun to grapple with it honestly.