Monday, September 26, 2011

A dumb question repeated

As we asked earlier, is Pakistan at war with the United States?  Would the answer be more obvious if they sent panzers across our border?
The top U.S. military officer on Thursday accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of supporting Haqqani fighters in planning and conducting last week's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistani duplicity puts in jeopardy not only the frayed U.S.-Pakistani partnership against terrorism but also the outcome to the decade-old war in Afghanistan.

In his final congressional testimony before retiring next week, Mullen said success in Afghanistan is threatened by the Pakistani government's support for the Haqqani network of militants, which he called a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence agency.

A Pakistani government minister who spoke on condition of anonymity to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad said Mullen's accusation that the Pakistani agency, the ISI, has links to the Haqqani network "will not help to stop the ongoing slide in our relations. Any public bickering of this kind makes it much harder to overcome the damage."
He doesn't even try to deny it.

A western diplomat who also spoke to Bokhari on condition of anonymity said the accusation "is quite a serious development. There is a dangerous standoff. I doubt the U.S. pressure will ease unless Pakistan takes immediate steps in dealing with U.S. concerns."

Repeating a charge he made earlier this week, Mullen said Thursday that with Pakistani support the Haqqanis were behind not only the Sept. 13 embassy assault but also a recent truck bomb that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers and a June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul — as well as "a host of other smaller but effective operations."

Mullen said Pakistani intelligence is using the Haqqanis and other extremist groups as its proxies inside Afghanistan.

Mullen said Pakistan's government has chosen to "use violent extremism as an instrument of policy," adding that "by exporting violence, they have eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being."

Mullen also deplored the "pernicious effect" of Afghanistan's own poor governance and corruption.

"If we continue to draw down forces apace while such public and systemic corruption is left unchecked," Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "I believe we risk leaving behind a government in which we cannot reasonably expect Afghans to have faith. At best this would lead to localized conflicts inside the country; at worst it could lead to government collapse and civil war."

Testifying alongside Mullen, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also decried Pakistani support for the Haqqani network, and he said Pakistani authorities have been told that the U.S. will not tolerate a continuation of the group's cross-border attacks. Panetta said the message was delivered recently by new CIA Director David Petraeus in a meeting with the head of the ISI.

"They must take steps to prevent the safe haven that the Haqqanis are using," Panetta said. "We simply cannot allow these kinds of terrorists to be able to go into Afghanistan, attack our forces and then return to Pakistan for safe haven."

He repeated the point later, adding, "That is not tolerable."
No kidding.  In a beautifully researched and written piece, Walter Russell Meade is even more blunt:
One should be clear about this; attacks on embassies and on military personnel and positions are acts of war.  They are not college pranks, they are not “signals”, they are not robust statements of policy disagreement and they are not bargaining chips in an extended negotiation.  They are acts of force in violation of international law and they can legitimately be met by acts of force and war in return.

I have had the opportunity to meet retired senior officials of the ISI at different times, and they make no bones about their attitudes toward the United States.  They are our enemies and they are not ashamed to say so.  They believe they have grounds: the US in their view is a treacherous ally which has never fully backed Pakistan in what they believe to be an existential conflict with India, and that today the US is openly in India’s camp, supporting its nuclear program, its global ambitions, and pursuing an Afghan policy which increases Indian influence in direct opposition to Pakistan’s efforts to ensure a friendly government in Kabul when the Americans leave.  Moreover they believe that America is a power that is fundamentally hostile to Islam, and that our invasion of Afghanistan was an act of wanton mayhem which threatens the sovereignty and security of Pakistan and which has cost Pakistan untold billions of dollars, far exceeding any US aid.
While these views are not universally held in the Pakistani military and government, they are prominent — perhaps central — in ISI strategy, and it is clear that the rest of the Pakistani government either cannot control the ISI or does not wish to.  On the other hand, it appears that the ISI prefers to operate under a veil on implausible deniability; the government can claim and perhaps mean that it has no responsibility for what “rogue elements” in the ISI are up to.
Pakistan must operate in this clandestine and indirect manner; otherwise its use of terror groups to commit acts of violence well beyond its frontier would land the country in a frightful nest of crises and lead to its total international isolation. The right hand shakes yours; the left hand plants a bomb.
The United States has generally also tried to run its Pakistan policy in ways that allow a split consciousness.  On the one hand, we know much of what the ISI is up to while US forces seek to kill people that the ISI regards as colleagues and allies.  On the other hand, we push the Pakistani military command to limit the space in which the ISI is permitted to operate and to collaborate with us on those areas where collaboration remains possible.  There are, after all, some groups we both want to defeat.  In a sense we try to exact the highest price possible for our willingness to turn a blind eye to ISI activities of which we disapprove.
This is the ugly logic of war.  There were many things about Josef Stalin’s conduct that the United States agreed to overlook during World War Two.  We were still shipping him lend-lease aid as Soviet forces crushed the independence of the Baltic republics and established a totalitarian puppet regime in “liberated” Poland.  There are similar strategic ambiguities in a number of our relationships with countries around the world today.  (Did I hear someone say Saudi Arabia?)  “Frenemies” are part of the international scene and have been for thousands of years.
But US-Pakistan relations seem to be moving past the "Bosom Buddy" stage to something sharper.  When the nation’s most senior military official, a man who follows US-Pakistani relations closely and speaks frequently with the head of the Pakistani military, makes the kind of charges in a public forum that Admiral Mullen has done, it is no longer possible for either side to pretend that nothing is happening.
The real root of Pakistan's issues, according to Meade, is their seemingly intractable conflict with India, largely over the province of Kashmir.  And that may be the card the US is threatening to play:
The nuclear arsenal is its ace in the hole against India, intended to neutralize that country’s overwhelming and growing advantages in conventional warfare.  (There are persistent stories that the Pakistani arsenal was paid for in part by the Saudis and that it serves as a “Sunni bomb” and as insurance that the Saudis can quickly go nuclear if the Iranians move too far down that path.)
The development of links with networks of guerrillas and terrorists helps Pakistan exploit the situation in Kashmir, gives it the ability to strike India, and is a vital dimension of Pakistan’s efforts to ensure a friendly Afghanistan after the departure of NATO.
The current tussle between the US and Pakistan involves an effort by the Americans to invoke the stated threat of a military aid cut off and the implied threat of a full-bore US realignment with India to force Pakistan to give up at least part of its fifth pillar: the links to terror and guerrilla groups and the use of these groups in Afghanistan.
There seems to be a genuine division in Pakistan about how to respond.  There are some who see the present national strategy as suicidal (the Via Meadia view, by the way) and want to use the American threat as a way to force ISI hands off the levers of power and call a halt to activities in both India and Afghanistan that hurt rather than help Pakistan in their view.  These are nice people, but there are not enough of them to swing the debate.
Then there are those who want to temporize: always in the past it has been possible to buy off the Americans with a few pretty gestures or even occasionally a real concession.  Throw them a few more Al-Qaeda officials, give them a bit more help eradicating some rebel units you also don’t much like in the tribal areas, and guilt-trip the Americans into more aid.
There are those who think the Americans are bluffing: that America needs Pakistan so badly to get out of Afghanistan that Pakistan can safely defy the Americans at minimal cost.
And finally there are those who think that America is Pakistan’s enemy.  Either for religious reasons (we are the leader of a global western and Christian assault against Islam as they see it) or national ones (we have decisively chosen to take India’s side) we are hostile to Pakistan and our cooperation and aid is intended to confuse Pakistanis, gain an intelligence edge and, quite probably, prepare ourselves for a strike to destroy or capture their nuclear weapons.
Given the balance of forces in Pakistan, it appears that group one — those who think the alliance with America is beneficial enough and important enough to modify the rest of Pakistan’s national strategy — is not now and likely never will be strong enough to deliver very much of what Americans want.
Which points to some unpleasantness not far down the road. Sayeth Hot Air:
We have two realistic options for retaliation, I think, and one unrealistic option. First: Cut aid. It’s belt-tightening time here at home and we sent them $4.4 billion last year. Let them make do with whatever they can get from China. When they inevitably threaten to withhold cooperation on terrorism, threaten to step up counterterror cooperation with India, replete with sharing cutting-edge military technology. Two: Start quietly targeting rogue ISI officers in case we’re not doing that already. There’s huge risk in that, obviously, as it’s bound to damage intel sharing, but maybe that’s a risk worth running if fear inside ISI would lead them to scale back their sponsorship of jihadi outfits. Three, the unrealistic option: Do something about their nuclear weapons. What that “something” might be, I have no idea — I don’t know the extent of U.S./Indian capabilities — but their nuclear arsenal is the ultimate problem in dealing with them. As things stand, we can never push back too hard to their provocations lest the country be destabilized and jihadis end up with nuclear arrows in their quiver. Without that variable, there’d be much less risk to confronting Pakistan directly and letting the chips fall where they may; even if it meant radicals taking over the government, the inevitable conventional war with India would eventually dislodge them. With the nuclear variable in the equation, though, it’s too risky to make any sudden moves. And Pakistan knows it only too well: It’s no coincidence that they’ve been ramping up nuclear production in the last few years even as the country’s become less stable. If we can’t do anything about it — and we almost certainly can’t — then the world will be a hostage to them forever. Maybe we should start thanking them for “only” targeting one of our embassies now and then instead of doing something cataclysmically nutty. Thanks, Pakistan!
More Meade:
One must then ask what Admiral Mullen and his colleagues (who surely understand the basic facts of Pakistani national security policy better than a humble blogger) hope to achieve by ratcheting up the pressure in this public and official way.  The most likely theory: they believe the last group of Pakistanis who think of America as a strategic enemy (presumably the ones responsible for supporting the recent attacks) are not yet strong enough to dominate Pakistani policy making.  Forcing a showdown will lead the other groups in Pakistan to clip the wings of the ISI-types who might welcome an open breach.  That won’t be enough to stop the ISI from playing games, but it may limit how far they dare to go.
One hopes this calculation is correct, but it would be unwise to underestimate the degree to which many Pakistanis think they have the US in a trap, how deeply a culture of brinkmanship has embedded itself into Pakistani security thinking, and how much contempt many Pakistani decision-makers feel for many of their US counterparts.
The ISI and its allies just might not back down.  At that point, the US would face some extremely difficult choices — although there are plenty of people in the US armed forces and diplomatic corps who are angry enough with Pakistan at this point to make and to implement those choices.
I'm a little bit surprised that there is not more talk of simply washing our hands of Pakistan and telling India to have at 'em, but Meade hints at the possible reasons why.  If the Saudis are bankrolling the Pak regime, how would this affect our relationship with the kingdom? My guess is given the choice between Pakistan and us, the Saudis will choose us.

Still, to my way of thinking, giving a green light to India represents the simplest, cheapest and most effective option for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment