Pakistan: Pariah or Partner?
What would you call a regime that employs terrorism as part of its foreign policy, allows its intelligence agencies to coordinate attacks on United States forces, provides support to groups that wage war on its neighbors, and offers safe haven to the most-wanted, most-notorious terrorist in history? Most Americans would call such a regime an enemy, and they would be right about Pakistan.
With his often-blunt language about the world and critical comments about multilateral institutions, President Donald Trump is not particularly popular overseas. But there’s at least one place that likes him so much he’s been awarded a medal for bravery. The honor was bestowed by the people of Logar province, Afghanistan, after Trump announced that the U.S. would freeze military assistance for Pakistan, due to what he described as a record of “lies and deceit.” The president was right to take this action.
It’s important to note that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency (ISI) spawned the Taliban—the Islamic fundamentalist political movement that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, made common cause with al-Qaeda, and continues to wage war against civilization. Military historian Joseph Micallef calls ISI the “Taliban’s financer, organizer and principal patron.”
After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan was offered a chance at repentance, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave Islamabad an ultimatum to end its support for the Taliban and terror, or be considered an enemy. “Powell,” as The Washington Post concluded, “would be asking Pakistan to help destroy what its intelligence service had helped create and maintain: the Taliban.”
Islamabad got the message and sided with the United States—for a while. It had no choice, really. After all, with Manhattan still smoldering, the Bush administration warned Pakistan to get on board, get out of the way or “be prepared to be bombed…back to the Stone Age.” An enraged superpower can be very persuasive.
But America’s rage faded, and Pakistan’s ISI reverted to its old ways.
Micallef describes today’s Taliban, which is destabilizing Afghanistan, as “dependent on Pakistani military and financial support.” He observes that while “the United States has a vested interest in the establishment of a secure and stable Afghan government…Pakistan seems determined to use the Taliban and possibly other jihadist groups to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
For instance, in January, ISI’s partners in crime executed two massive terror attacks in Afghanistan. One, carried out by Taliban gunmen, left 30 people dead, including four Americans. The other was carried out by Haqqani Network operatives, who drove a bomb-laden ambulance into a crowd, murdering more than 100 people. (Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen called the Haqqani Network “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.”)
Haqqani operatives in Afghanistan, “with ISI support,” in Mullen’s words, conducted truck-bomb attacks on U.S. and NATO bases, assaults on government facilities, the 2009 attack that killed seven CIA personnel, and the 2011 Kabul siege.
Stanford University research details how the Haqqani Network “facilitated al Qaeda’s escape during the U.S. battle at Tora Bora in 2001, enabling the jihadists to move from Afghanistan to a safe haven in Pakistan” and how the Haqqani Network is responsible for several attacks against the U.S., NATO, the Afghan government, and foreign government missions. These attacks, which have claimed 374 lives, include some truly unspeakable acts against humankind.
A NATO report concludes, “the Haqqani family…resides immediately west of the ISI office at the airfield in Miram Shah, Pakistan… ISI is thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel.” Pentagon officials describe the Haqqani Network as a “critical enabler of al Qaeda.”
“The support of terrorism is part of their national strategy,” Mullen said of Pakistan. National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster notes that Pakistan “goes after terrorist insurgent groups…selectively, and uses others as an arm of their foreign policy.”
Of course, the most damning piece of evidence against Pakistan is the fact that Osama bin Laden was permitted to live in a mansion just miles outside Pakistan’s capital, in Abbottabad. It’s impossible to believe that Pakistani military and intelligence personnel there were unaware that the most wanted man on earth was living next door.
After SEAL Team 6 found bin Laden hiding in plain sight, a Pakistani court found the man who was instrumental in confirming bin Laden’s whereabouts guilty of treason. For doing what Islamabad should have done, Shakil Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison, where he remains today.
Yes, Pakistan has been scarred by its (halfhearted) fight against (certain) terrorist groups—a 2017 report estimates 62,000 Pakistanis died in terrorist attacks from 2003 to 2017—but this is a monster of Pakistan’s own making. Islamabad sowed the wind and is reaping the whirlwind.
Pakistan’s apologists in Washington say the best we can hope for is a transactional relationship with Islamabad. If that’s true, what exactly are the American people getting in exchange for the $33 billion the U.S. has shoveled into Pakistan since 2002?
It’s one thing for Americans to collaborate with the enemy of our enemy to achieve some greater objective. It’s quite another to work with an unsavory regime and be reminded that we are collaborating with the friend of our enemy—with a regime that flouts our values. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious freedom in Pakistan has “hit an all-time low due to chronic sectarian violence” targeting Christians, Shiites, Ahmadis, and Hindus (actions for which Islamabad is not necessarily responsible) and due to the fact that “the Pakistani government failed to intervene effectively” to protect these groups (inaction for which Islamabad is totally responsible). When suicide bombers attacked a church in Peshawar, killing 100 people, and mobs rampaged through Christian villages in Punjab, destroying 100 homes, “few, if any, perpetrators were held to account.”
“It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace,” Trump says. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting…That will have to change.”
In the face of the chaos and carnage spawned by organizations supported by elements inside the Pakistani government, Islamabad declared in August, “Pakistan does not allow use of its territory against any country.” After a U.S. drone killed a Haqqani leader hiding in northwest Pakistan in January, Pakistani officials claimed the U.S. had “targeted an Afghan refugee camp in Kurram.” The U.S. Embassy refuted the claim, noting that there are no refugee camps in Kurram.
A Heritage Foundation-Hudson Institute research team proposes a range of options, including: no longer referring to Pakistan as an ally; prioritizing humanitarian programs; collaborating with China to pressure Islamabad; developing “calibrated actions” to end Islamabad’s support for the Taliban and the Haqqani Network; noting that Pakistan runs the risk of being designated a state sponsor of terrorism; and leaving the door open to unilateral action against terrorist groups in Pakistan.
At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the toughest response for Islamabad to swallow would be for Washington to cut it off and treat it like a pariah. As McMaster recently asked, “does Pakistan want to become North Korea?”
Playing hardball with Islamabad raises the important matter of how to sustain U.S. operations in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s “help.” To be sure, Pakistan’s duplicity puts the United States on the horns of a dilemma: Afghanistan is land-locked. Iran is an enemy regime. Russia has pressured the ‘Stans to end or limit arrangements that enabled the U.S. to resupply Afghanistan. The logistics corridor through Russia (which carried non-lethal equipment into Afghanistan from 2006 until 2014) is a relic of the pre-Crimea era. But any nation that has the creativity and capacity, audacity and ambidexterity to plant democracies where Hitler and Tojo ruled, to mount the Berlin Airlift, to face down Stalin and hunt down bin Laden can find a way to persuade Pakistan to change—or find a way around Pakistan. Read more here.
Photo Credit: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, middle, inspects Pakistan navy sailors during a welcoming ceremony at Pakistan Naval Headquarters in Islamabad on August 20, 2009. U.S. Navy Photo.