America and Pakistan: A messy divorce?
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The U.S. military's top officer accused Pakistan on Thursday of 'exporting' violent extremism to Afghanistan by allowing militants to act as an 'arm' of Islamabad's intelligence service. (Getty Images)
September 26th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

America and Pakistan: A messy divorce?

Editor's Note: Aqil Shah is an expert on Pakistan's civil-military relations and regional security dynamics in South Asia based at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

By Aqil Shah, Foreign Affairs

The killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who led the High Peace Council, illustrates all too well the tremendous obstacles to a meaningful reconciliation among Afghanistan's various factions. Before his death on September 20 at the hands of a man who claimed to be an emissary of the Quetta Shura, Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, had been in charge of reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents. His appointment had apparently been meant as a way to pull the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance into the peace process. The jury is still out on exactly who ordered the killing - the Taliban first claimed and then denied involvement - but its implications are clear. Rabbani's assassination, the latest in a systematic campaign of targeted killings of high-profile anti-Taliban Afghan leaders, has increased the chance that tensions among the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, and other Islamist Pashtun groups could devolve into all-out war.

The beneficiary of this uncertainty is the region's primary spoiler: the Pakistani military. Although its generals have received billions of dollars in U.S. aid since 9/11 to combat terrorism, they have consistently done everything in their power to bolster it. They selectively cooperate with the United States, apprehending al Qaeda militants and fighting the Pakistani Taliban insurgents - which also threaten the Pakistani military - while sheltering and supporting other radical extremists, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which spearhead the deadly cross-border insurgency in Afghanistan.

The United States has had hard evidence of the Inter-Service Intelligence's double game for some time. For example, the George W. Bush administration reportedly intercepted communications between the ISI and Haqqani operatives who perpetrated the 2006 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. But in this and several other cases, the United States chose to look the other way, because it needed ISI cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. In addition, the United States continues to rely on Pakistan's land routes to supply its troops in Afghanistan.

How the Haqqani Network is Expanding From Waziristan

It took a direct terrorist hit on the U.S. mission in Kabul for Washington to read the riot act to Pakistan's generals. In the most direct and daring official U.S. indictment of the Pakistani military to date, Admiral Michael Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States had "credible evidence" that the September 10 truck bombing of a U.S. military base in Wardak province and the September 13 terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul were carried out by the Haqqani network with the ISI's active collusion.

If Mullen is right, the ISI is extending its Afghan proxy war against India to target the United States. The reckless escalation is likely intended to demonstrate to Washington that nothing is off-limits to Pakistan's Afghan surrogates, and it may even be designed to push Washington to rethink its involvement in helping India expand its presence in Kabul. Pakistan's military believes, somewhat plausibly, that India has used U.S. military cover to increase its intelligence assets on Pakistan's western border, which would allow New Delhi to foment insurgency in Pakistan's resource-rich province of Baluchistan. The generals are also alarmed by New Delhi's deployment into Afghanistan of its mountain-trained Indo-Tibetan police force, mainly to protect the personnel of the semi-military Border Roads Organization (BRO), which has a role in  developing Afghanistan's infrastructure. One project is a strategic highway linking Afghanistan to the Iranian port of Chabahar, which will reduce the landlocked country's dependence on Pakistani land routes.

A Formal Funeral for the Two-State Solution

The ISI-led attack also conveys the agency's intent and capacity to use insurgents to spoil any peace process that excludes Pakistan. The country no doubt has a legitimate stake in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan to its west, and it, along with other regional states, should be part of any reconciliation process. But its military covets a seat at the head table in any peace negotiation so that it can veto any outcome that threatens its expansive national security interests in the region. Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns, which are much less likely than more secular Pashtuns to make irredentist claims on Pakistan's own Pashtun regions, or bow to Indian influence. The military's worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Northern Alliance, which it fears would permit New Delhi to continue activities that are hostile to Pakistan even after the United States leaves the region.

But in the process of pursuing strategic depth, the military has run Pakistan into the ground. As Mullen rightly noted, exporting violent extremism has eroded the country's external credibility, undermined its internal coherence, and threatened its economic future. But for Pakistan's overfed, unrestrained, and irresponsible generals, it seems that the perceived benefits of nurturing violent extremist groups are still much higher than the costs. And indeed, in real terms, those costs have been much lower than they might have been. The United States has typically appeased the Pakistani military when it should have held it accountable. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, for example, the Obama administration certified to Congress in March that Pakistan's security and intelligence agencies were earnestly combating terrorism and refraining from political meddling - two key conditions attached to U.S. security aid to Pakistan under the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. The administration rewarded bad behavior and got more of the same.

Palestine's Rocky Path to the United Nations

As Obama mulls over future policy options in Pakistan, he will find no easy answers. Still, neither the White House nor Congress should abandon Pakistani and Afghan civilians by letting the Pakistani military (literally) get away with murder. As I argued in "Time to Get Serious with Pakistan," as difficult as it might be to conceive of a long-term U.S. engagement with Pakistan right now, extremists are less likely to find easy refuge in a globally integrated, democratic and prosperous Pakistan. Moreover, the stronger Pakistan's democratic institutions become, the less room the Pakistani military and the ISI will have to maneuver - even if that change is slow and incremental. Hence, the United States should provide Pakistanis with more economic and trade-related opportunities and help strengthen Pakistan's civilian political institutions by meaningfully engaging them.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate recently decided to link all aid to Pakistan - including civilian economic assistance - to the Pakistani military's cooperation against militant groups. Rather than imposing blanket aid cutoffs, the United States should consistently identify and publicly chastise the Pakistani military for its support of terrorists, routinely enforce security aid conditionality and credibly threaten the military's high command with targeted sanctions if it continues to pursue reckless policies that undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts and imperil nuclear-armed Pakistan's own stability. Otherwise, Mullen's recent tough talk is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Aqil Shah.

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Topics: Pakistan • United States

soundoff (283 Responses)
  1. Saba

    ABOVE VIDEO EXPOSES PAKISTANI LIES AS AFGHAN INTELLIGENCE HEAD LAMBASTES PAKISTAN

    September 27, 2011 at 6:04 am | Reply
    • Jeff

      Afghan and the word intelligence dont go together Saba.What india needs to do is to stay out of Afghanistan. India was the supporter of USSR invasion, you should remember it being an indian yourself. Write to you pm to stop indulging in proxy wars in country they helped destroy via USSR.

      September 27, 2011 at 10:22 am | Reply
      • RamSek

        And your name is Jeff? Don't you even have the slightest self respect to call yourself by your own name? Ah, just remembered that self respect is not for a$$ pimpin hoes sleeping with the highest bidder.

        September 27, 2011 at 10:49 am |
      • Saba

        @ Jeff you are a Pakistani hiding under an American name, we all KNOW IT :) :) shed your skin and practice honest else even you are EXPOSING the Pakistani LIE CULTURE, YOUR NATION PAKISTAN IS A DISGRACE

        AFGHANISTAN IS A MUCH BETTER COUNTRY , ITS LEADERS AND OFFICIALS ARE GRATEFUL FOR US AID AND THEY WANNA LIVE AND MAKE A SUCCESSFUL STATE , BUT PAKISTAN WANTS TO DIE

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFLowe0U53g&w=640&h=390]

        September 27, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  2. Saba

    MUHAMMAD ALI JINNAH ( PAKISTAN'S FOUNDER) was a Traitor, He contributed Nothing to the Indian ffreedom Movement as Mahatma Gandhi fought a non-violent battle against colonization and won India Independence

    Jihhan came like a Hynea and took the meal hard won by the Lion ...So we can expect what we see in Pakistan today

    Pakistan will disintegrate Like USSR Insha Allah ( God willing )

    September 27, 2011 at 6:08 am | Reply
  3. Saba

    Pakitanis here are neck deep in conspiracy theories

    it will not be a surprise if after some monsths every Pakistani child may be told that it was born DUE TO A CONSPIRACY THEORY SPUN BY INDIA, UNITED STATES AND ISRAEL

    THIS IS THE NEANDERTHAL PAKISTANI OUTLOOK ON WORLD AFFAIRS expect very few rational Pakistanis

    September 27, 2011 at 6:12 am | Reply
    • mumtaz

      JINNAH was a whisky drinking, womaniser had nothing in common with the common muslim.
      that is founding father of a decrepit , backstabbing nation.
      67 years and it is falling apart.
      AT THIS POINT the whisky drinking population of pakistan is in a mess, the army higher ups, the ISI top officials, the zardaris with a french villa, the ones that rules the roost are going to have no more free d0llars for their lifestyle. no more frolicking in USA and west.
      The common man in pakistan or even their so called middle class has the noose hanging forever, they get blown up or killed like in karachi everyday. nothin going to change for them.

      September 27, 2011 at 9:40 am | Reply
      • boznon

        eesh!harsh words!whats wrong if jinnahs father was a rajput or if he used to drink?you should be happier with him then with extremists.apart from the issue of separation from india his speeches show that he clearly wanted a secular rather than theocratic pakistan.

        September 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
      • RamSek

        That brings up the bigger question – Is Pakistan capable of a half decent pluralistic government?
        You kill not just Kafirs (non-muslims) but also Shias, Ahmedias, Sufis etc. i.e. anyone who is not 'pure' enough by your yardstick. Why?

        September 27, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • RamSek

      Also remind that Jinnah's grand father was a rajput. Jinnah was so insecure that he changed his name to sound more muslim. Pakistan is the sorry depiction of a nation born out of the insecurity of a single naalayak.

      September 27, 2011 at 10:51 am | Reply
  4. Jeffbaseball

    It's time for the armed forces to come home. Leave bases near by. Have small CIA operatives working to infiltrate and destroy terrorist cells.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:53 am | Reply
    • boznon

      so right.if curbing terrorism of jihadists like alqaeda and taliban is the real issue then strategy should be more focussed rather than going for wars.even greater focus should be on curtailing all sources of funding to terrorists including funds from saudia,funding of pakistani military, and poppy based funding.on the other hand if nukes are the target or some other aims then it could makes sense to fuel strife in pakistan and weaken military etc. and find excuses of inading pakistan.time will tell what the real game plan is.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  5. Sameer Mehta

    Terrorism is Pakistan's perceived lifeline. Terrorism pays them well. Terrorism is their state policy. Terrorism is a tool to retain power. How can pakistan leave it? It can only make a show of fighting terrorism. If US wants to end terrorism it has to break pakistan - root cause of terrorism.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply
  6. TP

    America: We have our freedom everyday with the right to be who we are and the right to fill our life with what we love, free to practice our religion or not with knowone to pass personal judgement Pakistan: you have years of war torn grevence given to you by your own, surpression, lies and denial. A govenment and a land that is breeding nothing but death to your familys and the rest of the world, one way or another you will be confronted......go ahead, speak your hate, but embrace your blame of what you really are.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
  7. Mujtaba

    American propaganda machine in full swing!......now blame it all on Pakistan!.......what are the allied forces doing in Afghanistan??

    September 27, 2011 at 9:43 am | Reply
  8. mumtaz

    THIS WITH HOLDING THE DOLLARS GOING TO AFFECT ONLY THE WHISKY DRINKING CLASS OF PAKISTANIS.
    the poor pakis, (THERE IS ONLY TWO CLASS IN PAKISTAN THE POOR AND THE WHISKY DRINKING CLASS) are being blown away everday at random, now the JUST WATCH THE FUN FOR THE WHISKY DRINKERS>

    September 27, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply
  9. Sameer Mehta

    Divorce is bound to be messy as Pakistan was faking orgasm from the very first night.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:53 am | Reply
  10. bill

    Divorce sounds great and I do hope, we don't have to pay for child support.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
  11. Jeff

    It is interesting to see Pakistan's name being floated in the wind now more than ever before. Why now? Is the embassay shooting, is it Rabbani killing, is it US elections time again and Obama has the need to do a Bush (project a stong leader), or is it the US readying public for another war against Pakistan, or is it that US is getting ready to get out of the region? Haqqani's always existed, nothing new there. They dont dance on Pakistani tune, anyone who says that is nothing close to being a South Asia Analyst (read Aqil Shah). The attacks, that is what Haqqani, the Talibans, and even the Afghan army soldiers do to Americans – nothing new there. So why now elevate Pakistan as the big bad guy? Could it be that the department of defense wants to have somebody with a status more than the rag tag taliban or the haqqani to use to cover up their prepostorous claims of how well war is going in Afghanistan with the so called surge. Actually, one question I have for US authorities, why are they coddling Indians in Afghanistan. Perhaps they think when US leaves, India can fill the gap for them. If anyone thinks that Pakistan will take this, they have no clue how sensitive this issue is to every Pakistan and not just their army.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • RamSek

      Correction. Pakistan is NOT a big bad guy.

      Pakistan is a pathetic loser that in the words of Stephen Cohen, "that negotiates with a gun to it's own temple".

      September 27, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply
  12. sonny

    Pakitan is never never never on our side. They just want our money. American people wake up and not let one penny goes to Pakistan.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
  13. Saba

    Americans : Pakistan is behind Indian embassy attack in kabul, ISI has blood all over its hands

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypVdR-AEHbE&w=640&h=390]

    September 27, 2011 at 10:42 am | Reply
  14. Saba

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFLowe0U53g&w=640&h=390]

    AFGHAN top intelligence head has accused pAKISTAN OF MAstermining the attack on indian embassy in Kabul and also FOR PAKISTAN REFUSING TO FIGHT AL-QAIDA

    September 27, 2011 at 11:04 am | Reply
  15. Allah ho Akbar

    No matter what Pakistan does America is not going to attack her. Pakistan knows that.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  16. bushcheneydid911

    American Indians stole Billion of Dollars from USA and took them to Indian Banks, they are evading billions of Dollars of Tax in USA............American Indian Hindus are the biggest Racist on the planet, they Hate Blacks, muslims and Arabs in USA, in Indian they are on Genocide rage against indian muslims; killed thousands of Indian muslims in Gujrat, bombay, kashmir etc. and they they bark that they are the biggest democracy on the planet............Indian Zionist Racist Hindu you suck big time!

    September 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  17. Rashid M.

    It's plain and simple. It is America's war and they are obligated to handle the matter in Afghanistan. It's not Pakistan's problem to fight extremist who enter the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan or who go from Pakistan Tribal area into Afghanistan. United States has great resources with tools they can deploy on the afghan border, and they should stop terroist from entering or going to afghnistan. People have to understand the history about Waziristan and Pakistan. In United States, Indian's have their own land and they mostly have their own security people and people who live their do not pay taxes and they are allowed to open casinos. I agree that in USA, they have control of indian territories when needed, but you need to understand, that Waziristan is also the same thing. The reason why military cannot be aggressive in that area because everyone keeps illegal arms, and this custom of keeping arms date back to Afghan Russian war. You cannot win Waziristan, unless you destroy the whole area, and killing innocent people. It's not right to blame Pakistan for everything. USA needs to first fix their own books. They point their finger on Pakistan ISI for being involved with Haqani's but, can anyone tell me what Indian embassy has opened 16 offices in Afghanistan. US only has two embassies in Pakistan, but India who geographically is on the right side of Pakistan, has 16 embassies in Afghanistan which is on the left side. What US did during United States Russian Cuban crisis, when Cuba alligned with Russia, and because Cuba is close to United States/Florida, there was a panic in United States. Each country first keep it's priorities. United States should have understand that Pakistan has fought 2 wars with India and they have developed their whole military doctrine and spending huge budget due to this issue. USA has irritated Pakistan, by allowing Indian to open 16 embassies, which is nothing different that you blaming Pakistan for working with ISI. United States need to understand that the world understands their diplomacy and their history of using a country and then never to look back. They helped Afghanis during russian war and after their reached their goal for keeping Russian outside, they never looked back. Pakistani government know, that this will happen after few years. I agree that american say that United States has given so much money to Pakistan which according to my knowledge until now is total 10 billion, out of that 5 billion is the bill Pakistan Military has paid towards mililtary ventures in last few years. Technically it's only 5 billion for all those years, and these are pop corns for US. They never say anything to Isreal who is the biggest receiver of the security fund, and then have the nerves to sit in front of Obama and dictate him. Foreign news person many time critise Pakistan for using some of the funds for their own military advancements. Has anyone pointed when US is the biggest funder of annual aid to isreal and then they military kills many people. I can only say one thing about Israel. A national who has used Holocaust to create space in heart of other's. A nation who saw millions of jews getting killed. I think that nation should be more kind to palestians then repeating the same kind of mistakes happened in time of Nazis. Sorry i moved form the main point. I want to neural in what i write, but i spent a lot of time understanding the history in those countries and there are many mistakes by every country, but United States needs to understand the problem Pakistan faces. I don't mean to offend indians, or anyone but my posting to explain the sides. India certainly don't like Pakistan, but there is no doubt that United Nation has many resolutions against India and Kashmir issue, and clearly Kashmiris have the right to choose what they want, but India damn care about the resolution, and they is no doubt. United Naton is infact created for superpowers to implement sanctions. Small countries are only there for speeches and most of member's don't even care listening to small countries and i am sure, they will be busy on iphone playing angry bird. :)

    September 29, 2011 at 12:38 am | Reply
  18. amjad malik

    When George W Bush threatened General Musharraf to coerce him in joining the US led war on terror in Afghanistan, warning either you are with us or against and to take Pakistan to the age of stones if the answer is ‘no’, fortunately Turkey saved its nation from the wrath of war, and Unfortunately our military leader meagrely caved in. Since then, we are ensnared by the ‘aid’ lolly pop whether its war bill or Kerry Lugar fund and are running in circles in search of direction. Alas, we did not have a civilian leader like Quaid e Azam, ZA Bhuttoo, or even Nawaz Sharif at the time of crunch and had to bear with a weaker sword who bend down when the time came to stand. After 10 years Pakistani nation after losing all the chances of growing as a nation is confronted with severe allegations of mistrust, aiding and abetting anti US network, and is at the verge of an attack all out or of a smaller scale is yet to be determined by super power, and who is standing with us is questionable?. United States earlier announced its victory and gave time line to leave the turf, but is still mindful to appoint its ‘goons’ to handle Afghanistan in its absence. Pakistan’s worry is, rightly so, that it does not leave a situation where its anti state element creeps in Afghanistan and it keeps on fighting the remainder years on back and front.Haqqani and TTP are but two sides of the same coin. USA mindful of the fact wishes to toe its policy ignoring geo-political situation at the ground, the same ground which he intends to leave starting some in 2012. He is eyeing on its future interest and thinks it’s done with the business with Pakistan. Pakistan knows that it will have to live here as a neighbour and will have to pick pieces, if it remain silent. Ignoring Pakistan’s bleak economy due to its participation in the war on terror, and loss of thousands of lives military and civilian and the wave of terrorism it felt across the country in the form unknown suicide attacks as a result of being an ally, the country does not deserve to be internationally branded as an anti US ally to the Haqqani’s. I think its callous exposure of the end of one’s interest as an ally, but the end can be congenial. International community must sit together and try to preach commonsense as any skirmish against Pakistani state and troops on its soil will be against the will of its people, Govt and its armed forces and it will not remain confined to a small scale experiment, as it will have repercussions in Pakistan, Afghanistan , region and the world, and will have psychological knock out effect. It will aggravate anti US feelings in Pakistan and Muslim territories which is already labelled as the country’s master since 1947, but it never came to help when Pakistan was in trouble especially in 1971 (fall of Dhaka & post Russian withdrawal in 1985).
    Finally, its a time of turmoil in Pakistan. Half of the province is drowned in floods in Sindh, and half in dengue virus and other side of the country in KPK and Baluchistan is still picking pieces of the results of the Afghan war and Army is too stretched due to operation(s) in Swat, and South Waziristan. Several thousand soldiers have laid their lives with many a thousand civilians too as a collateral damage in order to come up to the expectations of the world community. After losing over 67 billion dollar to the economy, Pakistanis are still graded ‘D’ as far as the trust is concerned, which will be unacceptable, and untenable to its people and they will easily say that though no war with USA but ‘enough is enough’, Pakistan may be a weaker state, but this difficulty may turn out to be an opportunity for the state of Pakistan who religiously believes in prosperity in the worst of hopelessness and there is nothing to lose from ground ‘zero’ where they already are. It may be a new beginning for Pakistan . So Pakistan is rightly questing to learn the acknowledgement of its role in this war on terror by international community, and its people are asking that if the international world is mindful of the sacrifices the country has made, then they should make up with their decision once for all whether they wish to fight this war ‘With us or without’. for usa , take the dollars back but save the pakistan from virtual slavery.

    September 29, 2011 at 5:29 am | Reply
  19. mkay

    only wise become super rich. but they can afford to fool around,unlike the poor. so Americans have chosen to fight hobby wars in more than a score of nations. since none of them is a patriotic war,quickly loose interest &look for to quit. the nations where hobby wars were fought were unfortunately,less than wise & got themselves seriously harmed. since Indian leaders r business like men,strongly hope,won't embroil their nation in futile pursuit but keep building the nation wisely, may be in the process making themselves richer & richer..

    September 30, 2011 at 7:30 am | Reply
  20. I say help the poor but suspend aid to the rich

    Same as the name

    April 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
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