The Haqqani network, a feared insurgent group in Afghanistan allied with the Taliban militants, is not only a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's primary Inter-Services Intelligence Agency [ISI], according to the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, but also that the ISI helped Afghan militants to carry out a terrorist attack against the coalition soldiers and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Mullen added that America's fragile relations with Pakistan will deteriorate even futher: "I worry that the relationship [with Pakistan] will be in tougher shape down the road than it is now," Mullen said just few days before throwing a bombshell that made the Pakistani government furious.
"The Haqqani Network—which has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency—is responsible for the September 13th attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. There is ample evidence confirming that the Haqqanis were behind the June 28th attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and the September 10th truck bomb attack that killed five Afghans and injured another 96 individuals, 77 of whom were U.S. soldiers," Muller said on September 22, in front of a Senate committee, adding in his testimony that "in supporting these groups, the government of Pakistan, particularly the Pakistani Army, continues to jeopardize Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected and prosperous nation with genuine regional and international influence."
Mullen's words provoked strong reactions, but many U.S. politicians seemed to agree with the Admiral's suggestion not to disengage with Pakistan, but rather to reframe the political relationship. "This is because while Pakistan is part of the problem in the region, it must also be part of the solution,",Mullen said. Some lawmakers, however, such as Republican Representative Ted Poe, are convinced that the U.S. cannot trust Pakistan any longer.
"Ever since we found Osama Bin Laden living the high life, we've had our suspicion about Pakistan. Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States. " By sending aid to Pakistan, we are funding the enemy, endangering Americans and undermining our efforts in the region. This so-called ally takes billions in U.S. aid while at the same time supporting militants who attack us. They are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States. We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let's not pay them at all," declared Poe, who introduced legislation in the US Congress to freeze all US aid to Pakistan except funds designated to help secure nuclear weapons, adding that this should be "last rodeo" for Islamabad.
The United States gives Pakistan more than $2 billion in security assistance annually, although this summer the Obama administration decided to suspend, or in some cases cancel ,about a third of that aid this year. Altogether, about $800 million in military aid and equipment are affected.
Pakistani officials quickly rejected all accusations. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani warned that the United States must end "its negative messaging" by accusing Pakistan of supporting militant attacks in Afghanistan. He said that such accusations would only strengthen anti-American feelings in his country. Interior minister Rehman Malik volunteered, "If you say that it is ISI involved in that attack, I categorically deny it… We have no such policy to attack or aid attack through Pakistani forces or through any Pakistani assistance." Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly said that few countries have been as brutally ravaged by terrorism as Pakistan, and that 30,000 civilians, police and security forces have been killed since 2002. Khar said Islamabad is determined to eliminate terrorism from its soil, from the region and from the world; and she called for enhanced international cooperation to wipe it out.
The Pakistani government, however, is not doing much to show the U.S. any commitment really to fight terrorism. In an interview with Reuters, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani actually said that any unilateral military action by the U.S. "to hunt down militants of the Haqqani network inside Pakistan would be a violation of his country's sovereignty." In the meantime, Pakistan is trying to find ways to strengthen alliances not only with the "all weather ally," China, but also with Iran. Pakistan's FM Khar voiced her country's willingness to increase cooperation with Iran in regional and international fields. The Iranian Fars News agency reported that Pakistan and Iran wanted to deepen bilateral ties in political, economic, cultural, regional and international aspects, and that they have explored avenues for facilitating bilateral agreements. The two countries apparently want particularly to sign agreements in various fields, including energy, refinery construction and a multi-billion dollar pipeline project that is due to transfer Iran's gas to Pakistan, which is in need of energy. Further, the Middle East Media Research Institute reports that during an official meeting, the Iranian Interior Minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, has said that Pakistan would not be left alone in any eventuality, and that Pakistan's enemy is the enemy of Iran. Clearly the Iranian Minister is referring to the "American enemy."
The U.S. has express its disappointment about this dangerous realignment between Islamabad and Teheran, and says it would like Pakistan to abandon the pipeline project that would bring gas from Iran. As reported by the Pakistan newspaper The Express Tribune, "the United States had made it clear that it opposed Pakistan's decision to import gas from Iran, even going so far as to threaten sanctions if Pakistan did not withdraw from the deal." The paper reports, however, that Pakistani officials used the U.S. opposition as an opportunity to press once again for a civilian nuclear power deal, according to which the US should provide Pakistan with nuclear technology for a civilian energy program. Such a deal with Pakistan is highly unlikely as Washington is concerned about Islamabad's nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. has for sure to reframe its relationship with Islamabad, as Adm. Muller said, but it will not be easy for Washington to do that: Pakistan is not willing to cooperate. It seems that there is no intention to find a common denominator with which to start working to find peaceful solutions for the future of the region. Pakistan is the problem and also the solution, analysts are mindlesslyrepeating in Washington DC; but for now the government in Islamabad seems to be becoming more and more the problem, the newest "bad boy" of the broader Middle East.