Blunt Talk

in Program

By Michael Krepon – Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke unusually bluntly about Pakistan’s
military and intelligence services during his last appearance before the Senate
Armed Services Committee on September 22nd. He identified the
Haqqani network as “a strategic arm” of Pakistan’s
Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), which thereby made the ISI complicit
in the September 13th attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul,
the June 28th attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul,
and the September 10th truck bomb attack that killed five Afghans and injured 77

When Mullen, the foremost U.S.
defender of maintaining sound working ties with Pakistan’s military, expresses
this much exasperation, those who seek to retain decent bilateral relations are
in trouble.  Ties have become extremely
tenuous and are likely to deteriorate further. 
By publicly confirming and not qualifying reality, Mullen has changed
the rules of the game, while laying the predicate for U.S. military actions against the sanctuary
within Pakistan
that the Haqqani network enjoys. This, in turn, will embarrass Pakistan’s military hierarchy and further
inflame anti-U.S. opinion within Pakistan – two consequences that
are not unrelated.  The prosecution of
the U.S. military campaign
in Afghanistan will then
become much harder, and whatever residual support Pakistan
provides to the United
States on other issues can vanish.

Pakistani military and intelligence
officers denied Mullen’s charges. They keep tabs on the Haqqani network, they
say, but do not collude with it. Nor do they take active steps to prevent such
attacks or to warn the intended victims. If this does not constitute collusion,
it reflects incompetence or hard-nosed cost/benefit analysis: the costs of
preventing this carnage would be great – including adding Pakistani targets to
the Haqqani target list – and the benefits would be modest, compared to
securing a large footprint in Afghanistan’s

Why would Mullen speak out now? The
answer in Pakistan is that Washington needs a scapegoat for a military campaign in Afghanistan
that is unlikely to end well.  This
answer conveniently absolves Pakistan’s
security establishment of responsibility for this mess. There’s another answer:
the Haqqani network has raised the stakes, and the Obama administration has
concluded that it has been unable to influence Rawalpindi’s unfortunate choices.

The United
States and Pakistan are well past the stage of
doing favors for each other; cooperation is limited to common interests. After
9/11, the Bush administration issued an ultimatum for Pakistan’s military establishment to cut ties
with the Taliban and help the United
States crush al Qaeda. Pakistan’s
military was let off the hook for its championing of the Taliban, and paid for
its support and its self-interested sacrifices. The United
States military made good use of Pakistan’s territory to resupply U.S. troops in Afghanistan,
secured early cooperation in collaring al Qaeda leaders, and carried out drone
strikes, including against enemies of the Pakistan military.

Both countries became disillusioned
with this partnership.   Rawalpindi’s
contributions in the “war on terror” were highly selective, and the benefits
provided by Washington came with insults to
Pakistani sovereignty and contention over the Taliban’s role in Afghanistan’s
future. Disputes now loom larger than common interests.

In 2009, there was talk of moving
beyond this transactional relationship with the passage of the
Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation, but these hopes have been unfulfilled.  Not much aid has made it through the pipeline
because of bureaucratic obstacles and concerns over corruption. Differences in U.S. and Pakistani policies also have grown as Washington’s relations with New Delhi have improved.  Only Pakistan opposes the start of
negotiations to end the production of fissile material for nuclear
weapons.  Rawalpindi
continues to pursue policies toward Afghanistan,
India, and nuclear weapons
that diminish Pakistan’s
international standing.  Inputs from Pakistan’s
President, Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs on these matters are

Both Washington
and Rawalpindi
are quite capable of repeating past mistakes and making matters worse.  Pakistan’s
woes are mostly self-inflicted, but Washington
has repeatedly bet against Pakistan’s
future by focusing on military ties.  Pakistan’s military leaders continue to resist
improved relations with India,
a prerequisite if Pakistan
is to become a normal nation. Rawalpindi’s
Afghan policy, which seems to be repeating the mistakes of the 1990s, may be
based on the assumption that the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community will
continue to prevent another divorce – but both of these stores are now under
new management. Alternatively, the boldness of recent strikes in Afghanistan by Rawalpindi’s partners may reflect the
conclusion that the relationship has been broken beyond repair.  Besides, most U.S.
troops will soon be leaving Afghanistan.
For whatever reason, Pakistan’s
security establishment is acting in ways that suggest that its influence within
Afghanistan matters more
than its relations with the United

Admiral Mullen advised his listeners
on Capitol Hill not to disengage from Pakistan,
but rather to “reframe” the relationship to buttress civil authority and to
expect far less from military leaders in Pakistan. This was the sentiment
behind Kerry-Lugar-Berman – one well worth pursuing, but which has not yet had
much success. Unless Rawalpindi changes course, Pakistan
may find itself reframed from a major non-NATO ally to a state sponsor of
terrorism.  Then the architects of
policies that have diminished Pakistan’s
security and international standing will again blame the United States for exiting the
relationship after misusing it.

Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, U.S. Air Force;

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Choose Your Subscription Topics
* indicates required
I'm interested in...
38 North: News and Analysis on North Korea
South Asian Voices