Pakistan’s relations with the US have never been easy. The differences go beyond the question of divergent perceptions about each other although there was always something unnatural about the rulers of a country best described as a “basket case” rubbing shoulders with leaders of claimant to the title of “sole superpower”. This is not to suggest that Pakistan does not have potential or is not endowed with resources. On the contrary, the country has enormous potential including its strategic location in a volatile region. Had its rulers played their cards well, Pakistan would be one of the leading players in the region instead of imploding from within.
The recent spate of public disagreements can be traced to the May 2 US attack on a compound in Abbotabad, where Pakistan’s Military Academy is located, to kill Osama bin Laden. The Pakistanis including the military were not informed prior to the US Navy Seals’ assault using helicopters. According to the Americans, after killing him, Osama’s body was airlifted and dumped into the sea. The Pakistanis were clearly caught napping. This was a huge embarrassment for the military and its much-vaunted intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Military officials insist they were duped and their trust was violated.
While not yet recovered from this humiliation, Pakistan’s relations with Washington have deteriorated further amid US accusations that the ISI is providing support for the Haqqani network to attack US-NATO forces and installations in Afghanistan. As the name suggests, the Haqqani network is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation whose fighters hold sway in Afghanistan’s Paktika, Paktia and Khost provinces as well as in Kabul. The Haqqani network is accused by the US of carrying out a string of attacks, some of them quite spectacular, against US-NATO forces. These include the September 13–”14 attack by six gunmen on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that lasted nearly 20 hours. While militarily insignificant, it caused huge embarrassment to the US delivering a huge psychological blow. How could six lightly armed gunmen occupy an unfinished building and battle heavily armed US and Afghan troops for 20 hours in the heart of the capital?
The Americans accuse the ISI of helping the Haqqani network. The outgoing Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen has gone so far as to call the Haqqani network, the “veritable arm of the ISI.” In his testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, Mullen said: “With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy.”
This evoked strong reaction from the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani who said Mullen’s remarks were “unfortunate and not based on facts,” according to a military press release. This was polite language for calling Mullen a liar; strong stuff indeed. The press release went on to say that a number of western countries, including the US and a number of European countries were in contact with the Haqqanis for reconciliation. During recent contacts, General Kayani said, Pakistan had made it clear to the US that its engagement with the Haqqani network should not be misconstrued as one meant to undermine American interests in Afghanistan. “We worked with them for positive objectives which could have been useful for all stakeholders in the Afghan end-game,” he stressed.
Even Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, who would easily pass off for a fashion model, said it was “unacceptable” for one ally, the United States, to “humiliate” another, Pakistan. “If they are choosing to do so, it will be at their own cost,” she said in an interview with the Pakistani TV network, Geo, in New York on September 23. Other Pakistani officials were equally firm in rejecting American accusations.
The US blame game is part of a pattern in which Washington holds others responsible for its own failures. Instead of blaming Islamabad, Pakistani military officers contend it is up to the heavily armed American troops in Afghanistan to prevent the Haqqanis from launching attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. After all, in order to get to Kabul, the Haqqani fighters have to pass through provinces with large American bases. Why have the Americans with their massive surveillance capabilities and star wars-style gadgets been unable to intercept these fighters, the Pakistanis ask.
While the Americans accuse Pakistan of harboring the Haqqani network in North Waziristan (in Pakistan’s tribal belt), Jalaluddin Haqqani insisted in an interview with Reuters last month that he was working solely in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have said much the same thing but American defence secretary Leon Panetta appears unconvinced. He threatened to launch military strikes against the Haqqani fighters if Pakistan would not do so.
The US is already involved on multiple fronts in destabilizing Pakistan. To the ubiquitous drone attacks that have escalated alarmingly since Barack Obama became president of the United States in January 2009, must be added the terrorist bombing campaign in Pakistan’s cities. The CIA is involved in targeted assassinations and its agent, Raymond Davis was caught last January after he murdered two Pakistanis in cold blood on a busy street in Lahore. The Pakistanis were believed to be ISI agents tracking Davis’ movements. A treasure trove of information was retrieved from his cell phones that revealed that many people on Washington’s terrorist list were in fact working for the US. Under American pressure, Davis was freed without facing charges for murder.
Blackwater (now renamed Xe-Services) mercenaries known for their terrorist activities are also active in Pakistan. The number of their operatives varies from a few hundred to 3,000 but even the Americans have not officially denied their presence and operations in Pakistan. The Americans are also actively engaged in destabilizing Baluchistan by supporting the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA). This outfit also has the support of British, Indian and Israeli intelligence agents.
The mayhem in Karachi that has been ongoing for the last several months though presented as ethnic warfare has American fingerprints all over it. In recent weeks a letter written by Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Qauma Movement (MQM), surfaced in Pakistan. The letter dated 9-23-2001, was written less than two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The MQM don’s letter was addressed to then British Prime Minister Tony Blair offering to provide human intelligence as well as other support for the US/British war in Afghanistan. Altaf Hussain asked for money and political patronage including positions in the provincial and federal governments in Pakistan. The MQM chief faces several murder charges but he has been given sanctuary in Britain and granted British citizenship. Beyond the MQM, the Americans have a number of other players –” political, social and media persons –” on their payroll. It works through them to advance its nefarious agenda. The mayhem in Karachi is essentially payback for Pakistan’s refusal to reign in the Taliban and other militants from attacking US-NATO occupation forces in Afghanistan.
The proxy war between the US and Pakistan that threatens to escalate into direct warfare now is the result of the collision of their divergent strategic objectives. It includes Pakistan’s role as a sovereign country, its possession of nuclear weapons, the only Muslim country to do so, and what future they perceive for Afghanistan. Regrettably, far from providing security, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have become a source of instability because of the incompetence of its rulers and the evil intentions of America, Israel and their western allies. Successive Pakistani rulers have failed to articulate a clear vision for the country and what kind of influence, if any, it should have in Afghanistan, its western neighbor that has been a battleground for predatory powers for decades.
The Haqqani network has become a bone of contention between the US and Pakistan. Washington sees the group as primarily responsible for its military defeats in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, the Haqqanis are an insurance policy against too much dominance of India in a post-US Afghanistan. Last month, India’s Steel Authority signed a $6 billion agreement to develop the Hajigak mine in Afghanistan’s Bamyan province. India is also building the Afghan Parliament building as well as a highway linking Herat with Iran. Islamabad sees these developments with alarm because any Indian influence in Afghanistan is at Pakistan’s expense.
Far from appreciating Pakistan’s help, the Americans treat it as a slave. Pakistani leaders, both military and civilian, face a crucial choice. They can tell the Americans to stop their destabilizing policies or Pakistan will halt all trans-shipment of fuel and military hardware through its territory. Unable to fight the Afghans with all their modern weapons, one can imagine what American soldiers would do without ammunition. Can the Pakistanis muster enough courage to take that crucial step?