Understanding the duplicity

If America wants Pakistan to truly give up links with Haqqani network they need to understand their legitimate fears.

George Fulton September 28, 2011
Understanding the duplicity

The very public spat between Pakistan and the US which emerged last week after Admiral Mike Mullen, a man known for his straight talking, outed the ISI and called the Haqqani militants a ‘veritable arm’ of the spy agency, has left many analysts perplexed. Why do it? What benefit would America gain from such a public announcement? Perhaps it was frustration on behalf of the Americans. Admiral Mullen is due to retire at the end of the year. Maybe, with his forthcoming demobbing, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff felt able to candidly blow off steam at the perceived duplicity of the ISI? Unlikely. This evidence given to the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22 was a designed ratcheting up of pressure on Pakistan. The defence secretary, Leon E Panetta, threatened ‘operational steps’ against Pakistan — a euphemistic term for possible American raids against the Haqqanis in North Waziristan.

But don’t the American’s understand the psyche and character of Pakistan’s military/intelligence nexus yet? Rather than spurring the ISI/Army into doing more, this public humiliation will have only further dented the frail ego of the military — an ego that has only just recovered from the dishonour of the Osama bin Laden raid. Mullen’s announcement will only have helped embolden those anti-American elements within the intelligence services and undermine the pro-Americans within the military.

America is undoubtedly frustrated with what they perceive as a double game being played by the ISI. But rather than merely lambasting the ISI for their treachery, it needs to understand the historical perspective from where it originates. Pakistan has, and is, a nation in perpetual existential crisis. They see foes on all sides. They know that friendships are fleeting in this part of the world. America — an ally against the Soviets in the 80s — has form in suddenly abandoning ‘friends’ in the subcontinent. Their withdrawal from the region after 1989 and the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan proved costly for Pakistan. The blowback from that sudden departure left Pakistan with three million refugees on its doorstep, an unstable neighbour, and the spread of the Kalashnikov culture.

The Pakistan military/intelligence nexus is merely planning for a post-US Afghanistan — a scenario that could be all too imminent. This is where Pakistan’s insecurity lies. Not without foundation. They don’t want a repeat of 1989. Instead, they want to have control and influence over an independent Afghanistan — hence the support for the Haqqani militants. This is not just for the old chestnut of ‘strategic depth’. Instead, they are particularly terrified that any ensuing vacuum after the pullout of Nato and American forces will allow India to gain influence within Afghanistan. They want to control Kabul before the Indians do. It is this very thought, above all else — the idea of having India effectively on both of Pakistan’s flanks — that has ensured the ISI carries out such duplicity, even at the detriment of Pakistan’s relationship with America. If America wants Pakistan to truly give up its links with the Haqqani network they need to understand this legitimate, even if ever so slightly paranoid, fear. And having done so, they should provide Pakistan with the necessary assurances and alternative solutions to allow Pakistan to give up their ‘veritable arm’.

But this latest row has really highlighted the dysfunctionality and disingenuousness at the heart of the ‘strategic relationship’. America easily forgets their own relationship with the Haqqani militants in the 1980s. It was during this period that links were first forged between the network, and the ISI and the CIA. Their leader, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, even shook hands with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. So America was happy to break bread with these people when it suited their strategic interests. The problem lies in that Pakistan and America’s strategic interest have now diverged. America is still fighting in Afghanistan in the present. Pakistan has an eye on the future.

Meanwhile, Pakistan expects the world to believe that they have had no contact or involvement with the operational activities of the Haqqani militants? Even if this was true — which is doubtful as support of the Haqqani network has been an open secret for a long time — the problem here is that Pakistan has what you might call form. For too long Pakistan has relied upon non-state actors for strategic goals. Whether it is the Taliban in Aghanistan, Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir or Lashkar-e-Taiba in India, Pakistan is addicted to this dangerous game. So when the information minister denies Pakistan’s link to the Haqqani’s — the very same minster who denied that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan — forgive us for not believing a word he says.

More worryingly, it reminds us of the short-term-ism of Pakistan strategic thinking. Pakistan believes that their support of the Haqqani network will allow them to act as the puppeteer of Kabul once the Americans depart. But have the military/intelligence nexus learnt nothing from history? These non-state actors do not remain compliant forever. They eventually go rogue. The Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba all eventually rebelled against their intelligence handlers and have now become Frankenstein monsters against the Pakistani state itself; thousands of Pakistanis have been murdered by these very groups.

Rather than being a strategic asset, groups like the Haqqani network remain the greatest threat to Pakistan’s existence. The cancer of militancy in Pakistan has metastasised because of our addiction to such loathsome groups. Even if America’s reasons are very different, they are right in wanting Pakistan to disengage with the Haqqani network. We need to stop our addiction to dangerous non-state actors for furthering our short-term strategic goals. For in the long-term all it does is perpetuate and aid a militancy culture in South Asia. And I think we can all agree that is not good. A recent programme on ARY stated idhar America, udhar Haqqani…..kya karay Pakistani? Get the necessary assurances from America for Pakistan post-US troop withdrawal, and then ditch the Haqqani militants.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2011. 


Ali | 12 years ago | Reply

I have been a follower of your columns on here for quite some time now. You are an awesome writer George. I have seen some hating being done against you. Please dont let it put you off and keeeep writing. Just wanted to chip in with some words of encouragement :)

nafisa mubarak | 12 years ago | Reply

Dear Mister Fulton,

I wish you spoke in place of Ms. Khar.


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