The post-Osama phase of the US-Pakistan relationship is proving to be extremely turbulent. The swift U.S. reaction to the attack on its embassy in Kabul and the killing of the chief Afghan government negotiator, former president Rabbani, led to an equally strong backlash from the Pakistani establishment.
In a scathing indictment of the Pakistan security establishment, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “…the Quetta Shoora 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 US 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.”
“We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said. “The allegations betray confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan.” General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff dismissed the charge as “very unfortunate and not based on facts.” Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, warned that Washington “could lose an ally” if it keeps humiliating Pakistan with unsubstantiated allegations.
The international community has known for long that the Pakistan army and the ISI follow a Janus-faced policy on Afghanistan. While pretending to be allies in the ‘war on terror’, they are careful to target only those terrorist organisations that strike within Pakistan, like the TTP and the TNSM, and nurture and support the Afghan Taliban and their sympathisers. In February 2009, David Sanger, New York Times correspondent, had written in his new book The Inheritance that in a transcript passed to Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence in May 2008, General Kayani was overheard referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset”. This had led to the first few armed UAV strikes against the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan inside Pakistan’s FATA province.
While U.S. frustration with Pakistani duplicity is understandable, the U.S. still has 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and is still dependent on the two land routes through Peshawar and Quetta for the logistics sustenance of its own and other NATO-ISAF forces. Though it could step up armed UAV strikes and even launch air strikes into North Waziristan, it does not have the capability to launch follow-on air assault strikes. Also, ground strikes will surely lead to war with Pakistan and war, with all its nuclear overtones, is not in anybody’s interest.
What the U.S. can do is to carefully calibrate the aid being given to Pakistan and make the government and the army accountable for cooperation in the war on terror. The Pakistan army and the ISI must not be allowed to get away with impunity for their support to terrorist organisations operating against the US and NATO-ISAF forces as well as in India. It should also consider rescinding its alliance with Pakistan when the bulk of troops are drawn down by 2014. As Stephen Cohen has put it so eloquently, “India is a friend, but not an ally; and, Pakistan is an ally, but not a friend.”