Why Pakistan supports the Haqqani network: Fear for its own security
29 Septembrie 2011 3 comentarii
ISLAMABAD — To American officials, the Haqqani network is a criminal syndicate with al-Qaida and Taliban ties that is frequently responsible for deadly attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan must sever its ties or risk being branded a supporter of terrorism.
To Pakistan, however, the picture is much more complex. Pakistani support for the Haqqanis is tied to Islamabad’s fears for its own future security, and Pakistan is unlikely to surrender that support no matter how much pressure the United States applies, analysts here say.
The gulf between those views promises continued tension between the two supposed allies. For many in Pakistan, Jalaluddin Haqqani is a veteran Afghan jihadist who fought valiantly to free his country from Soviet occupation; it is the U.S., they believe, that is the illegitimate force in Afghanistan.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, had helped Haqqani gunmen launch an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. He called the Haqqanis a “veritable arm” of the ISI.
But analysts here say the relationship between the Haqqani network and the ISI is more distant and complicated than portrayed by U.S. officials. Understanding that relationship, and the reason it exists, is critical if whatever relationship remains between Islamabad and Washington is to be preserved.
At the root of the Pakistani support for the Haqqanis is the country’s long rivalry with its archenemy, India. Pakistan thinks that the Afghan regime that the U.S. has backed since 2001 contains elements that are dangerously close to India. Haqqani and the Taliban are important counterweights to that, analysts here say.
Washington says that the Haqqani network is based in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area, which runs along the Afghan border. The Haqqanis have compounds in the district capital, Miranshah, as well as other infrastructure, according to U.S. officials.
But while the Haqqanis certainly are present in North Waziristan, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s 30-year history of fighting against foreign armies, first the Soviet Union and now the United States, means that he is respected in Pakistan’s tribal belt and across the border in Afghanistan as a “true mujahid” (holy warrior), says Saifullah Mahsud, executive director of the FATA Research Centre, an independent think tank in Islamabad.
“We cooperate with the Haqqanis because they are our long-term allies and our interests coincide in Afghanistan,” Mahsud said. “We see them as important stakeholders in any future Afghan dispensation, and it’s too late for us to find new trustworthy friends there.”
Pakistan officially insists that the Haqqani network is based entirely in Afghanistan, as does the group itself. Washington blames the Haqqanis for a series of attacks against Western targets in Afghanistan, including a 20-hour assault in Kabul this month that tried to strike the U.S. Embassy.
The Haqqani network is allied to the Taliban and says it works under its ultimate authority, though it is operationally independent. While the Taliban’s strength is in the south of Afghanistan, especially the province of Kandahar, where it was founded, the Haqqani network is entrenched in the east of the country, particularly the provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. From the east, the Haqqani network is within easy striking range of Kabul, and it has the military capacity for highly ambitious attacks, which makes the group arguably an even bigger threat to the Afghan government than the Taliban.
While it may be difficult for Americans, and many ordinary Pakistanis, to understand why the country’s military believes jihadist groups lie at the center of its security strategy, analysts say Pakistan’s armed forces have a 30-year history of working with Islamic militants – supported by the CIA in the 1980s, when the militants’ target was the Soviet Union.
Afghanistan’s ethnic mix also drives the thinking of Pakistan’s generals.
Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic state, with the Pashtun population as its biggest constituency. The Taliban and Haqqani also are predominantly Pashtun, which is also one of Pakistan’s major ethnic groups. Pakistan’s military thinks that a hostile regime in Afghanistan would threaten it with a possible war on two fronts, with traditional enemy India to the east and Afghanistan to the west, so backing Pashtun forces are its best insurance policy.
Afghanistan’s other ethnic groups, such as Uzbeks and Tajiks, are associated with the former “Northern Alliance,” which Pakistan believes to be in the pay of India and to have dominated Kabul since 2001, though President Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun.
“The policy is India-centric. The fear is a two-front war,” said Asad Munir, a retired brigadier who had served as the ISI chief in the tribal area. “Pakistan wants a government that is dominated by Pashtuns, but not an extremist government.”
Pakistan’s suspicions of the U.S. have been fueled by the fact that Washington has cut Islamabad out of tentative negotiations it has held with representatives of the insurgent leadership, including talks this year in Qatar and Germany with a man considered close to Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar and reportedly also to Ibrahim Haqqani, brother of Jalaluddin.
“America has started a reconciliation process in Afghanistan but they want Pakistan to fight,” said Aftab Sherpao, a former Pakistani interior minister. “They want peace over there and war here.”
Analysts say there is little the United States can do to wean Pakistan from its ties to the Haqqani network.
Pakistan receives around $3.5 billion a year in civilian and military aid from the United States. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that they do not want to repeat the 1990s experience of cutting off assistance and slapping sanctions on Pakistan, which did not work.
A U.S. offensive on Pakistani soil against the Haqqani network also is not likely to work. Such an offensive would certainly push public opinion in a dangerously radical direction. More than half the supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan.
Pakistan is also not likely to launch an armed assault on North Waziristan, where either army would be greeted by a formidable and motley collection of thousands of jihadists.
Adm. Mullen’s words on Pakistan come under scrutiny
Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington, according to American officials involved in U.S. policy in the region.
The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.
The administration has long sought to pressure Pakistan, but to do so in a nuanced way that does not sever the U.S. relationship with a country that American officials see as crucial to winning the war in Afghanistan and maintaining long-term stability in the region.
Mullen’s testimony to a Senate committee was widely interpreted as an accusation by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Pakistan’s military and espionage agencies sanction and direct bloody attacks against U.S. troops and targets in Afghanistan. Such interpretations prompted new levels of indignation among senior officials in both the United States and Pakistan.
Mullen’s language “overstates the case,” said a senior Pentagon official with access to classified intelligence files on Pakistan, because there is scant evidence of direction or control. If anything, the official said, the intelligence indicates that Pakistan treads a delicate if duplicitous line, providing support to insurgent groups including the Haqqani network but avoiding actions that would provoke a U.S. response.
“The Pakistani government has been dealing with Haqqani for a long time and still sees strategic value in guiding Haqqani and using them for their purposes,” the Pentagon official said. But “it’s not in their interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a [U.S.] compound would do.”
U.S. officials stressed that there is broad agreement in the military and intelligence community that the Haqqani network has mounted some of the most audacious attacks of the Afghanistan war, including a 20-hour siege by gunmen this month on the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul.
A senior aide to Mullen defended the chairman’s testimony, which was designed to prod the Pakistanis to sever ties to the Haqqani group if not contain it by force. “I don’t think the Pakistani reaction was unexpected,” said Capt. John Kirby. “The chairman stands by every word of his testimony.”
But Mullen’s pointed message and the difficulty in matching his words to the underlying intelligence underscore the suspicion and distrust that have plagued the United States and Pakistan since they were pushed together as counterterrorism partners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
U.S. military officials said that Mullen’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee has been misinterpreted, and that his remark that the Haqqani network had carried out recent truck-bomb and embassy attacks “with ISI support” was meant to imply broad assistance, but not necessarily direction by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Politicians hyped an inflated threat from the Soviets, just as they do with today’s enemies
During the so-called Missile Gap period, American politicians and the public believed that the Soviet Union had hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), outmatching the US in bombing capabilities. But over 189 documents were recently released which “showed the Soviets didn’t really have an advantage,” Chief of the CIA’s Historical Collections Division Bruce S. Barkan said.
John F. Kennedy showed himself stronger on defense by hyping this “gap” when debating Richard Nixon for the presidency, and continued to inflate the threat during his term. But one of the documents from Sept. 21, 1961 debunked this theory, providing evidence that the Soviets only had four ICBMs.
During the Eisenhower administration, there was a concern about a “bomber gap,” that the Soviets had more bomber aircraft than the US. The CIA discredited this and by 1957, the bomber gap concept turned into the missile gap.
The government has a record of inflating security threats and parallels can be drawn with today’s supposed threats. Iran is consistently hyped as a major threat, specifically a nuclear threat, despite leaked intelligence that there is no nuclear weapons program. Before the 2003 US invasion, the threat from Iraq too was inflated, to tragic effect. Similarly, terrorism is recognized by many experts as a much weaker threat than Washington makes it out to be.
Overestimating the Soviet threat during the Cold War not only led to an enormous and unnecessary build-up of arms, it served as the justification for various deadly wars abroad and the loss of civil liberties at home. Today’s threat inflation has similar consequences in both foreign and domestic policy.