The United States accuses Pakistan’s secret service of supporting the network of the Haqqani clan and, therefore, of supporting terror. Islamabad denies this and warns the Americans against military actions. The controversy comes at an opportune time for two other powers — China and Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. is currently making “many mistakes,” said a general at army headquarters in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi. “If the goal is foreign and security policy, strengthening one’s influence in a certain region and asserting one’s interests, Washington is practicing bad politics. The reasons for it are arrogance, delusions of grandeur and inconsideration. In the end, that will hurt the United States,” he said.
The annoyance of the high ranking military official, who does not want to be named, was sparked by the words of U.S. Chief of Staff Mike Mullen, who said in front of members of the U.S. Senate that the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, supported the infamous Haqqani network in attacking the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, as well as NATO headquarters there. The Haqqani network is a “veritable arm” of the ISI and is responsible for further attacks on U.S. facilities in Afghanistan. Islamabad reacted promptly: “Washington risks losing its most important ally in the war on terror,” said Foreign Minister Rabbani Khar.
In fact, the strained relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has consequences. Apparently Islamabad has been planning a defense alliance with China for months. “In this difficult position, with an unstable Afghanistan in the west, from which NATO wants to withdraw by 2014, and an increasingly aggressive India in the east, which has in the meantime become the world’s largest arms purchaser, we need a strong, reliable partner,” stated the Pakistani general. The U.S. is “to blame with their endless accusations,” he said, if “we turn to other powers and [the U.S.] loses power in the region.” One should additionally take “note, with some concern, that some forces in the U.S. approve of military intervention in Pakistan.”
The Pakistani newspaper, the Express Tribune, reports that Pakistan has been conducting secret negotiations for years concerning an “eastern defense alliance.” This should “send a strong signal to the world that Pakistan is not alone. A future world power stands behind us,” said the paper, quoting an unnamed Pakistani official.
“The Cards in the region are being reshuffled”
Officially, Peking and Islamabad do not want to confirm discussions about such an alliance in order to not off India and China too greatly. Anyone who analyzes the situation can put two and two together to figure out “that the cards are being reshuffled in this region,” like a staff member of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani already officially asked China for help after the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces in an action not agreed upon by Pakistan. Chinese diplomats promised at the time to consider a further attack by the U.S. on Pakistani soil an attack on China and to react correspondingly — a statement that was widely noted in the U.S. Reports that Pakistan gave China information about the stealth helicopter that crashed in the bin Laden mission were cause for further upset. Islamabad and China immediately denied that Peking had received footage of the helicopter.
Saudi Arabia is also using the conflict between the U.S. and Pakistan to strengthen its position. According to information from Spiegel Online, several Arab negotiators arrived in Islamabad to discuss the situation with Pakistani secret service members. They offered to mediate between the U.S. and Pakistan. Several sources indicated that ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha met with Saudi secret service officials at the air base in Rawalpindi and flew to Jeddah following the conversations.
In practical terms, the U.S. is demanding that Pakistan take military action against the Haqqani network. According to U.S. observers, this organization has its seat in the region of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani forces at the end of their capacity
Pakistan’s army, however, refuses to start a new interior offensive. The official reason is that the armed forces are at the end of their capacity. Currently, roughly 140,000 soldiers are stationed along the border of Afghanistan. In many places they are involved in skirmishes with extremists who come from Afghanistan to attack. According to official data, more than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have died in the war on terror since NATO’s entry into Afghanistan 10 years ago. “In contrast, the West has lost 2,735 soldiers,” said the general in Rawalpindi. “You also have to look at what we have accomplished. We fought the Taliban in the Swat valley and the surrounding region, as well as in South Waziristan.”
In truth, however, Pakistan has no interest in fighting the Haqqani network. “What have they done to us?” asked a brigadier general from Peshawar. “If we fight this group we would get no benefit, only great damage, because the terror in our own country would dramatically increase.” Up until now, the Haqqani network has fought “exclusively in Afgahnistan.”
The organization is named for the founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani. Currently it is led by his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who presumably belongs to the highest council of the Taliban leadership, the Quetta Shura, and is rumored to have good connections int the ISI.
Pakistan’s Minister of the Interior, Rehman Malik, emphasized that the U.S. created the Haqqani network at the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The CIA supported the fighters for many years. Photos show how high-ranking U.S. politicians, among them former President Ronald Reagan, received the Haqqanis. “At that time Pakistan supported the U.S. as well as the Haqqani network.” But this time is past; Pakistan has absolutely no contact with the Haqqanis any longer, according to Malik.
Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani says different. He criticized U.S Chief of Staff Mullen because of his accusations, but conceded indirect contact with the extremists: “Admiral Mullen knows very well which countries are in contact with the Haqqanis. To single out Pakistan is neither fair nor constructive.” U.S. allegations (without providing any evidence) that Pakistan supported extremists were cause for annoyance.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Khar told Arab network Al Jazeera that she is certain “that the CIA similarly has contacts with many terror organizations in the world.” Several politicians explained that Pakistan must maintain their connection to the Haqqanis merely in order to deal with them. The reason for the American accusations, explained a general in Rawalpini, are quite simple: The U.S. is looking for a scapegoat for their failure in Afghanistan.
And in an interview with news agency Reuters, Prime Minister Gilani emphatically warned the U.S. that any military action against the Hakkani network on Pakistani soil would be an attack on the sovereignty of his country. “We are a sovereign country. How do they come to these attacks in our country?” he asked. The negative newscasts are irritating his people.