Confronting Pakistan on Haqqani

September 29, 2011

Following Adm. Mike Mullen’s comments last week characterizing the insurgent Haqqani network as a “veritable arm of the ISI,” or Pakistani intelligence service, U.S.-Pakistan relations have spiraled into a series of recriminations. This crisis serves as an opportunity to reframe the relationship between the two countries, as Adm. Mullen said in his testimony. Part of that reframing is a “full-court” press which conditions any further U.S. support on Pakistani action against terrorist networks. Conditions are necessary, but they also risk widening the rift in this essential partnership further. As Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Daniel Markey notes, getting the balance right “won’t be easy.”

U.S.-Pakistan relationship in a spiral of recriminations; administration is pressing for Pakistani behavior change. Responses continue to outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen’s comments that the Pakistani intelligence service supports the Haqqani network – the group responsible for a number of attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including last month’s attack on the American embassy in Kabul. Pakistani political and military leaders are meeting today in Islamabad to discuss a response. On the U.S. side, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is in the “final, formal review” of the process to label the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist group. Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin quotes a senior administration official saying “pressing for Pakistani behavior change is the new mantra.” [AP, 9/29/11. Reuters, 9/28/11. Foreign Policy, 9/28/11]

The Haqqani row serves as an opportunity to reframe U.S.-Pakistan relations. Adm. Mullen’s testimony had a larger message about broadening our relationship with Pakistan, “Even in the midst of extraordinary challenges in our relationship today, I believe we can take advantage of this situation and reframe U.S.-Pakistan relations. While the relationship must be guided by some clear principles to which both sides adhere, we can no longer simply focus on the most obvious issues. We must begin to address the problems that lie beneath the surface. We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations of Pakistan’s success – to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security.  Those foundations must include improved trade relations with the United States and an increasing role for democratic, civilian institutions and civil society in determining Pakistan’s fate. We should help the Pakistani people address internal security challenges as well as issues of economic development, electricity generation, and water security. We should promote Indo-Pak cooperation and strategic dialogue. We should also help create more stakeholders in Pakistan’s success by expanding the discussion and including the international community; isolating the people of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive.” Robert Lamb, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, commented, “It’s ugly, but it’s not unsalvageable.” [Mike Mullen, 9/22/11. Robert Lamb via Bloomberg, 9/28/11]

Government on “full-court press.” The consequences, and the balancing act, are real. Daniel Markey, senior fellow for South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in Foreign Policy magazine, “Washington is launching a full-court press to show that it will no longer sit idly by while terrorist groups, abetted by the ISI, kill Americans and their allies in Afghanistan.” Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), told Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta they need to explain to members of Congress why U.S. assistance funds for Pakistan should not be shut down or severely restricted, according to The Hill. In addition, the 2012 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill left committee with a $100 million cut to the administration’s $1 billion request for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund and “includes strengthened restrictions on assistance for Pakistan by conditioning all funds to the Government of Pakistan on cooperation against the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations… and funding based on achieving benchmarks,” according to an Appropriations Committee statement.

But as Markey points out, “Of course, for Washington’s coercion to work, it has to be credible. Tough talk alone is not about to sway the generals in Islamabad. But today’s threats are already more serious than those of the past because they have been made in public — and because Congress has already signaled that it will make assistance to Pakistan conditional upon action against the Haqqani network. These steps will be hard to undo.” Markey also points out how a shattered relationship would hurt U.S. military interests. ”The United States could take the costly step of shifting ground supply routes to Afghanistan to run through Russia and Central Asia, along the so-called Northern Distribution Network; negotiate new agreements for airborne shipments and personnel; substitute drones with less-discriminating, higher-flying bombers that can evade Pakistani air defenses; and launch commando raids into Pakistan supported by a surged conventional presence on Afghanistan’s eastern border,” but as he says, “it won’t be easy.” Changes will also require that Pakistan shift its strategic interests, writes McClatchy, “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.” [Daniel Markey, 9/23/11. Appropriations Committee statement via The Hill, 9/22/11. McClatchy, 9/29/11]

What We’re Reading

A Massachusetts man accused of plotting to hit the Pentagon and Capitol with drone aircraft has been arrested.

The German parliament approves the expanded EU bailout fund.

A new United Nations report states violence in Afghanistan jumped about 40 percent over the last year.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia is warning that a terrorist group may be planning to kidnap Westerners in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Iran announced the mass production of a new cruise missile, the latest in a series of belligerent proclamations from that country in the face of its increased isolation by a Western-led group of nations.

China is due to launch its first space laboratory, the Tiangong-1.

Serbia called off a new round of EU-mediated talks with Kosovo following tensions at border crossings between Serbia and Kosovo, whose independence is challenged by many Serbs.

Mexican police have found five decomposing heads left in a sack outside a primary school in Acapulco.

Desmond Tutu has invited the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel laureate, to his 80th birthday celebration and to give a talk, but South Africa’s government is wary of irritating China, a key trading partner.

Commentary of the Day

Joseph Margulies argues that once it was the conditions at Guantanamo Bay that were cause for concern, but today it’s the scores of prisoners cleared for transfer but remaining in custody.

Bruce Reidel states that Iran is a dangerous country, but not an existential threat to either Israel or America.

Andres Oppenheimer writes that there are signs that the Americas will replace the Middle East as the world’s biggest oil-producing region.

Fehmy Saddy argues that while President Assad continues to crush peaceful protest and the international community considers intervention, the very existence of Syria is at stake.

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