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US and Pakistan: allies or enemies?

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Robin Lustig | 11:51 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

I'd like you to meet Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. They are, if American intelligence officials are to be believed, two of the most dangerous men in Afghanistan.

What's more, they are - again, according to US officials - virtually run by Pakistani military intelligence. And they are at the centre of a blistering row between Washington and Islamabad which risks seriously derailing the US Afghan disengagement strategy.

The Haqqanis go back a long way. Jalaluddin first became an important figure during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time, he was backed both by the US and by Pakistan - but he later made common cause with the Taliban and was appointed a minister in the Taliban government in the 1990s.

After the post-9/11 defeat of the Taliban by US-led forces, he took up arms against the Americans and has been fighting them ever since. He and his son are now thought to have anything between 4,000 and 10,000 fighters under their command, and they've been blamed for a series of audacious attacks against US targets. (Their network is also one of the suspects in the assassination this week of the former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, by a suicide bomber.)

But here's where it gets really tricky. According to the outgoing chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, speaking to a US Senate committee yesterday, the Haqqanis act as a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI.

Yes, that's the same ISI that's meant to be working hand-in-glove with the US to confront the continuing insurgency in Afghanistan. And yes, it's the same ISI that was widely criticised for either not knowing where Osama bin Laden was while he lived quietly in his Pakistani villa, or, even worse, knowing but doing nothing - or, yet worse still, actively protecting him.

US officials have claimed for some time that there are close links between the ISI and the Haqqanis. But, in the words of the New York Times today, "Admiral Mullen went further than any other American official in blaming the ISI for undermining the American military effort in Afghanistan."

Note those words: "undermining the American military effort." That's serious stuff - and President Obama's top security advisors are due to meet on Monday to discuss what to do next.

The problem is this: the US accepts that the insurgency in Afghanistan will never be defeated unless the insurgents are denied their bases across the border in Pakistan. But the ISI insists that as long as the fighters operate only in Afghanistan, they're not Islamabad's problem.

When I spoke to a former head of the ISI, General Asad Durrani, on the programme last night, he went even further: Pakistan should be supporting the anti-US opposition in Afghanistan, he said. If the US insists on launching drone strikes against targets in Pakistan, sometimes killing innocent Pakistani civilians, then the US and Pakistan are in a state of what he called "low-intensity conflict".

That's not what Washington wants to hear after having pumped billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan over the past decade. So yesterday a US Senate committee voted to tie any further aid to greater cooperation in fighting the Haqqanis. And that's not going down at all well in Islamabad.

It was only last week that the US embassy in Kabul came under attack - the assault lasted 20 hours and ended with about 25 people dead, including the attackers. Yesterday, Admiral Mullen blamed the Haqqanis.

Three days earlier, more than 75 US troops were injured and two Afghan civilians were killed by a suicide truck bomber at a military base south-west of Kabul. Yesterday, Admiral Mullen blamed the Haqqanis for that attack as well.

According to a report in today's Guardian, US intelligence had got wind of the impending truck bomb attack, and the American commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, personally asked the Pakistani army chief of staff to intervene to stop it. The report quotes a Western official as saying that General Kayani promised "to make a phone call."

We've known ever since the Americans killed Osama bin Laden last May without tipping off the Pakistanis that they don't trust their supposed Pakistani allies. Now, courtesy of Admiral Mullen, we know that Washington suspects the ISI of actively backing - even controlling - the Americans' most dangerous enemy in Afghanistan.

It doesn't bode well for the future of the US's counter-insurgency strategy.


  • Comment number 1.

    Intelligence, a funny term for what takes place, is what was once called spying. "moles" have been in every agency for many years. The British have had their share. During the Vietnam war the U.S. plans were often sent directly from South Vietnamese officials to Viet Cong or NVA. the West has backed many ruthless dictators and worked to over-throw some while pretending to be their friend. Pakistan is more like a war-lord state than a democracy. Control by the central government is limited and everyone is looking out for themselves. In developing countries weapons are used to undermine policies of the central government, in the West that is the role of banks.

  • Comment number 2.

    I believe Pakistan want(ed) to be an American ally, but Pakistan was rattled by US statement ISI was using terror groups to wage a proxy war in Afghanistan. PM Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Karachi. "They can't live with us. They can't live without us." The furore was caused by Admiral Mike Mullen's statement that Haqqani, a powerful faction of the Taliban, was a "veritable arm" of ISI. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned Washington that it could lose an ally if it continued to publicly accuse Islamabad of exporting violence to Afghanistan.
    Pakistani leaders spoke a day after Mullen accused ISI of supporting the Haqqani Network in carrying out a string of deadly terror attacks, including an assault on the US embassy in Kabul on September 13.
    The US Admiral's tough words marked the first time a top US military official had openly linked ISI directly to the terror groups, signalling a significant change in the US approach towards Islamabad. Khar said: "We have conveyed to the US that it will lose an ally. You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan; you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people." Khar, who is in NY to attend the UN General Assembly meeting expanded by saying though militants based in Afghanistan had carried out cross-border attacks on Pakistan, Islamabad had not resorted to a blame game even though US forces are responsible for security on Afghan side. It is in the interest of both Pakistan & US to retain their relationship, Khar said. It must be a relationship of sovereign equals.
    Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar also rejected the US accusations.
    "At this time," he said, "it is difficult for America to move away from Pakistan and we too need them... We have had a relationship with them since the 1940s and do not want to end that."

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't think the Pakistanis and the Americans ever liked each other; it's just that in the past they hated the USSR more. Now the Soviet empire is gone the only thing they have in common is the religious zeal which is extreme in as much as it is embedded in their cultures. Perhaps they have too much in common.

    I'm sure America is aware of the maxim: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. The only way forward in my opinion is for the US to keep giving money to Pakistan but perhaps to non-govt agencies involved in education of the economically disadvantaged. This is in the hope that once they can read they can read the Koran for themselves and are not told what the sacred book says by men of hate and fanatics.

    I think Pakistanis would respect a country that taught them to read and write more than a corrupt Pakistani military government in Karachi.

  • Comment number 4.

    Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani chaired an emergency meeting with his top commanders Sunday as the war of words with the United States escalated.
    Corps commanders met at the General HQ in Rawalpindi.
    The meeting followed scathing U.S. allegations the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, is assisting the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network to attack US targets in neighboring Afghanistan. The outgoing Chairman of US Joint Chief of Staffs, Admiral Mike Mullen, told a Senate hearing last week that the Haqqani network acts as a "veritable arm" of the ISI, its fighters planned & conducted this month's assault on the US embassy in Kabul as well as NATO bases in Afghanistan.
    Pakistani officials have rejected these allegations.
    Senator Lindsey Graham said Haqqani militants are killing American soldiers. He said that if Pakistan's intelligence continues to embrace terrorism as a national strategy, Washington will have to put all options on the table, including defending US troops. Sounds like more "war" to me.
    Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik insisted Sunday that the Haqqani network is not operating from Pakistan. He alleges the network was established & trained by the American CIA with support from Pakistan to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Malik reiterated that Pakistan is cooperating with the US in its fight against terrorism.
    In light of the recent allegations, Pakistan has warned the US that it risks losing an ally. A Pakistan army statement says a Pakistani representative in the talks, Khalid Shameem Wyne, expressed concern about the negative statements emanating from Washington.
    What does this seem like to you if not more war: US on Pakistan?

  • Comment number 5.

    Pakistani PM Yusuf Raza Gilani is warning the United States it must end "negative messaging" by accusing Pakistan of supporting militant attacks in Afghanistan. He says such accusations will only strengthen anti-American feelings in Pakistan.
    In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Gilani said unilateral US military action to hunt down Haqqani network militants inside Pakistan - similar to the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May - would be a violation of his country's sovereignty.
    Gilani's statement came a day after the Pakistani military said it would not target the allegedly Taliban-linked Haqqani network because it is already stretched too thin battling militants elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan.
    Also Tuesday, hundreds of Pakistanis turned out for anti-American rallies across the country. A suspected US drone fired two missiles on a compound near Wana in the South Waziristan tribal region, killing at least three alleged militants.
    On the final day of the UN General Assembly's annual session in New York, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said few countries have been as brutally ravaged by terrorism as Pakistan. She told the gathering that 30,000 civilians, police and security forces have been killed since 2002. Khar said Islamabad is determined to eliminate terrorism from its soil, from the world, and she called for enhanced international cooperation.
    Meanwhile, WH urged the Pakistan "to take action" to deal with the Haqqani network that Washington says conducts attacks against international forces from its base in Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan tribal region. But in an online statement, the Taliban said that it, not Pakistan, controls the Haqqani network. The group said there are no ties between the Haqqani network & Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, and that Haqqani fighters do not seek refuge in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region. Washington intelligence is false, or war-monghering.
    The Taliban statement also said attempts to link the Haqqani network's founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, to Pakistani Govt are designed to "give a bad name" to its prominent figures by tying them to foreign intelligence services.
    Does this seem like a set-up to war against yet another Muslim Country by the US?

  • Comment number 6.

    Leaders of Pakistan's rival political parties are meeting today to discuss recent US accusations of a link between Pakistan’s government and an allegedly al-Qaida-linked militant group. The talks come as US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton said the US is conducting a final review on whether to designate the Haqqani network a terrorist organization. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani organized the meeting in Islamabad, which is being attended by 58 leaders of political, religious & nationalist parties, as well as Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
    In his opening remarks, Gilani said the United States must stop blaming Pakistan for the regional instability.
    Last week, US Admiral, Mike Mullen, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Haqqani Network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistan denied the claim outright. In testimony to US Senate committee, Mullen blamed the militant group for attacks on US targets in Afghanistan leading to fears that the US would deploy troops to the border area where the militants are based.
    The White House yesterday refused to endorse Admiral Mullen's statements, instead stressing the importance of Pakistan's help in the fight against terrorism.
    White House spokesman Jay Carney said although the Mullen's comment is consistent with the Obama administration's position, he would put it differently.
    Well, the US' position is perfectly clear, isn't it? Maybe that's part of the problem.

  • Comment number 7.

    Congressman Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, tabled HR 3013, also known as the Pakistan Accountability Act, a piece of legislation which, if passed by Congress, will freeze all US aid to Pakistan with the exception of funds that are designated to help secure nuclear weapons.
    In a blunt statement to the House following the introduction of the Act, Mr. Poe said, “Since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan has proven to be disloyal, deceptive & a danger to the US”.
    He added that the “so-called ally continues to take billions in US aid while at the same time supports the militants who attack us”.
    A series of harsh exchanges between US and Pakistan (AGAIN) followed. Most recently Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in New York City the Haqqani network was the CIA's “blue-eyed boy”.
    Mr. Poe said by continuing to provide aid to Pakistan, the US was funding the enemy, endangering Americans & undermining US efforts in the region all together. In a strong speech on the floor of the House Mr. Poe argued, “We pay them to hate us, now we pay them to bomb us. Let's not pay them at all.”
    If passed by Congress and signed into law by the White House, the Act would apply to any funds allocated for assistance to Pakistan that were not spent on or after such date (as per the text of the Bill).


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