By Alan W. Dowd, ASCF Senior Fellow
February 2018 — With his often-blunt language about the world and critical comments about multilateral institutions, President Donald Trump is not particularly popular overseas. But there’s at least one place on the globe that likes him so much he was recently awarded a special medal for bravery. The honor was bestowed last month by the people of Logar province, Afghanistan, after the president announced that the U.S. would freeze some $2 billion in military assistance to Pakistan, due to what he described as a record of “lies and deceit.” Trump was right to take this long-overdue action against the Pakistani government, which has proven itself anything but an ally in the long war on terror.
It’s important to note that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency (ISI) spawned the Taliban—the Islamic fundamentalist political movement that brutally ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until late 2001, made common cause with al Qaeda and continues to wage war against civilization. As the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) explains, “The Pakistani state has supported the Afghan Taliban since its founding.” Military historian Joseph Micallef calls ISI the “Taliban’s financer, organizer and principal patron.”
After the September 11 attacks, Pakistan was offered a chance at repentance, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf a non-negotiable list of demands ordering Pakistan to intercept and detain al-Qaeda operatives; end support for Osama bin Laden; grant U.S. warplanes over-flight and landing rights; grant the U.S. access to naval and air bases; share intelligence information; “curb all domestic expressions of support for terrorism”; cut off fuel shipments to the Taliban; bar Pakistani volunteers from entering Afghanistan; and break diplomatic relations with the Taliban.
“Powell,” as The Washington Post concluded, “would be asking Pakistan to help destroy what its intelligence service had helped create and maintain: the Taliban.” Yet Musharraf got the message and sided with the United States—for a while. He had no choice, really. After all, with Manhattan still smoldering, the Bush administration warned Pakistan to get on board, get out of the way or “be prepared to be bombed…back to the Stone Age.” An enraged superpower can be very persuasive.
But America’s rage faded, and Pakistan’s ISI reverted to its old ways.
Micallef describes today’s Taliban, which is destabilizing the Afghan government and terrorizing the Afghan people, as “dependent on Pakistani military and financial support.” He observes that while “the United States has a vested interest in the establishment of a secure and stable Afghan government…Pakistan seems determined to use the Taliban and possibly other jihadist groups to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
FDD adds that Afghan Taliban fighters use Pakistan’s laughably misnamed Federally Administered Tribal Areas to plot attacks in Afghanistan and “then return to safety in Pakistan,” where the Afghan Taliban “recruits, runs madrassas and training camps, and receives medical care for its wounded.”
ISI also supports the Haqqani Network. In 2011, then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen called the Haqqani Network “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.”
In January, ISI’s partners in crime in Afghanistan executed two massive terror attacks in Afghanistan. One, carried out by Taliban gunmen, left 30 people dead, including four Americans. The other was carried out by Haqqani operatives, who drove a bomb-laden ambulance into a crowd, murdering more than 100 people.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Haqqani operatives in Afghanistan, “with ISI support,” in Mullen’s words, conducted truck bomb attacks on U.S. and NATO bases, attacks on commercial and government facilities in Kabul, the 2009 attack that killed seven CIA operatives, and the 2011 Kabul siege.
Exhaustive research at Stanford University details how the Haqqani Network “facilitated al Qaeda’s escape during the U.S. battle at Tora Bora in 2001, enabling the jihadists to move from Afghanistan to a safe haven in Pakistan” and how the Haqqani Network is responsible for at least 16 attacks against the U.S., NATO, the Afghan government and foreign government missions since 2006. These attacks, which have claimed 374 lives, include some truly unspeakable acts against humankind.
A NATO report concludes, “The Haqqani family…resides immediately west of the ISI office at the airfield in Miram Shah, Pakistan…ISI is thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel…Reflections from detainees indicate that Pakistan’s manipulation of Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly.” Indeed, The Financial Times reports that ISI was “helping the Taliban draft statements in the name of its leader Mullah Omar, whose location they claimed not to know even as he was dying in a hospital in Karachi.”
“The support of terrorism is part of their national strategy,” Mullen bluntly said of the duplicitous Pakistani regime. In a similar vein, National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster recently noted that Pakistan “goes after terrorist insurgent groups…selectively, and uses others as an arm of their foreign policy.” He mentioned the Haqqani Network and the Taliban by name.
But it gets worse—if that’s possible. There’s evidence that Pakistan sometimes bypasses its Taliban and Haqqani proxies to act directly against the U.S. and its allies. It is now known that a 2007 attack by Pakistani troops on U.S. forces, which occurred at the conclusion of a collegial meeting to hash out a border issue, was not carried out by some rogue soldier, but was a cold-blooded ambush. In 2011, NATO forces in Afghanistan took repeated fire from a Pakistan military base. It was so bad that NATO dispatched helicopter gunships to neutralize the attackers.
Of course, the most damning piece of evidence against Pakistan is the fact that bin Laden was permitted to live—for years—in a mansion just miles outside Pakistan’s capital, in a city that serves as home to Pakistan’s military academy. It’s impossible to believe that Pakistani military and intelligence personnel in Abbottabad—or political officials in nearby Islamabad—were unaware that the most wanted man on earth was living next door.
After SEAL Team 6 found bin Laden hiding in plain sight, a Pakistani court found the man who was instrumental in helping the CIA confirm bin Laden’s whereabouts guilty of treason. For doing what Islamabad should have done, Shakil Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison, where he remains today.
We are left with two possibilities: Either Pakistan’s intelligence and military assets are beyond the government’s control, or the government is complicit in what its intelligence operatives do and what its military won’t do. Neither alternative is comforting given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Add it all up, and we have a regime that employs terrorism as part of its foreign policy, allows its intelligence agencies to coordinate attacks on U.S. forces, purposely outs CIA agents operating on its territory, provides support to groups that wage war on its neighbors, participates and bankrolls attacks on U.S. facilities, allows its army to ambush U.S. troops, cedes territory to America’s enemies, and provides safe haven to the most-wanted, most-notorious terrorist in history. Most people would call such a regime an enemy, and they would be right.
To be sure, Pakistan has been scarred fighting (some) terrorist groups—a 2017 report estimates that 62,000 Pakistanis died in terrorist attacks between 2003 and 2017—but this is a monster largely of Pakistan’s own making. In a bid to control Kabul, Islamabad sowed the wind and now is reaping the whirlwind.
Pakistan’s defenders, enablers and apologists tell us the best we can hope for is a transactional relationship with Islamabad. If that’s true, then someone in Washington needs to ask what exactly the American people are getting in exchange for the $33 billion the U.S. has shoveled into Pakistan since 2002.
It’s one thing for Americans to collaborate with the enemy of our enemy to achieve some greater objective. It’s quite another to work with an unsavory regime like Islamabad and be reminded again and again that we are collaborating with the friend or our enemy. This is the very definition of self-defeating.
To its credit, the Trump administration is calling Islamabad to task. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,” Trump says. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting…That will have to change…No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. servicemembers and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.”
Adds Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “We expect Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based within their own borders.”
Yet in the face of all the evidence—all the chaos and carnage spawned by organizations supported and harbored by elements inside the Pakistani government—Pakistan’s foreign ministry defiantly declared in August, “Pakistan does not allow use of its territory against any country.”
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi insists, “Pakistan is not a problem for Afghanistan.” Worse, after a U.S. drone tracked and killed a Haqqani Network leader hiding in northwest Pakistan in late January, our friends in the Pakistani government told the world that the U.S. had “targeted an Afghan refugee camp in Kurram.” The U.S. Embassy immediately refuted the claim, noting that there are no refugee camps in Kurram. The UN echoed the U.S. response.
Interestingly, soon after Trump froze military aid to Pakistan, Islamabad released “for the first time a list of 72 terrorist groups operating on its soil, along with a warning to citizens that they’d be punished for contact with those groups,” according to published reports.
If nothing else, it seems Trump has gotten Islamabad’s attention. The challenge now is to convince Islamabad to stop playing its double game.
A research team led by the Heritage Foundation and Hudson Institute offers a range of options, including: avoiding any suggestion that Pakistan is an ally; prioritizing civilian and humanitarian programs (in other words, deemphasizing military and intelligence cooperation); collaborating with China and Arab governments to bring pressure on Islamabad; leaving the door open to unilateral action to target terrorist groups in Pakistan; presenting Islamabad a “list of calibrated actions for ending its support to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network”; and making it clear that Pakistan runs the risk of being designated a state sponsor of terrorism.
In addition, Washington could notify Islamabad that the U.S. will use kinetic means to destroy the Haqqani Network, the Taliban and al Qaeda inside Pakistan. Islamabad must be made to understand that it can no longer play games with sovereignty, claiming it is too weak to control its territory with one breath but then invoking its sovereign borders with the next. SEAL Team 6 exposed this duplicity—and Islamabad’s complicity in transnational terrorism.
At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the toughest response for Islamabad to swallow would be for Washington to cut it off, to treat it like the pariah it is, to view it in the same manner we view the likes of Iran, North Korea and other outlaw regimes. This may be where the Trump administration is headed. After all, McMaster recently posed a blunt question: “Does Pakistan want to become North Korea?”
Photo: www.dawn.com – Pervez Musharraf