Fact: Terrorism Is a Part of the Pakistan Package
Within the Pakistani military establishment, it’s simply impossible and inconceivable for India to foment deep roots in a country that it views—rightly or wrongly—as within its sphere of influence. That’s something one could easily see immediately following the unveiling of President Trump’s Afghanistan strategy, in which he advocated for more Indian economic involvement. Politicians and analysts in Pakistan were none too pleased with the prospect of greater Indian influence along its western border, and they responded with trepidation at the very thought of a U.S. administration icing out Pakistan through a trilateral U.S.-India-Afghanistan alliance. During a September appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Pakistani prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi stated point blank that his government deemed such an idea unacceptable. “We don’t accept or see any role politically or militarily for India in Afghanistan,” he said.
Armed groups that the United States designates as terrorist organizations or impediments to an Afghan peace process are utilized as assets in Pakistan to keep India’s regional influence at bay. The Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar e-Taiba, and the any number of extremist organizations that operate, fundraise and recruit on Pakistani soil are not so much agents of destruction for Pakistan as they are valuable cards in the deck. The groups are not to be shunned or combated, but exploited as tools in Pakistan’s national-security strategy against New Delhi—whether the contest is about Kashmir or Afghanistan. To give them up under U.S. pressure would be like a chess player giving up his queen. Indeed, the fact this hasn’t happened despite increasing anti-Pakistan feelings on Capitol Hill and the periodic suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. counterterrorism assistance is a demonstration of just how valuable the Islamic extremist organizations are in Pakistan’s South Asia policy. The generals in Pakistan’s armed forces and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are more willing to sacrifice American defense articles, U.S. taxpayer money, and all of the goodies that come from a positive relationship with Uncle Sam, than cut off decades-long ties with extremists that serve as relatively effective proxies.
None of this, of course, is new. U.S. military officials have recognized the dynamic for years. During public testimony to the U.S. Senate in 2011, the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen Mike Mullen concluded, “the Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.” Just two months ago, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan talked about how little the Pakistani army has done against the Afghan Taliban on its soil. President Trump is simply continuing the deluge, albeit in more explosive language.
The fundamental question is not whether Pakistan is in bed with internationally designated terrorist organizations. After all, there is irrefutable proof from the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and the State Department that this is indeed the case.
The more pertinent question is when U.S. foreign-policy officials will wake up to a basic fact of life: can we really expect happier days ahead in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship when their national interests of both are so incongruent?
The Beltway foreign-policy establishment needs to snap itself out of the delusion that the Pakistanis will change their stripes. It will take a lot more than an aid cut or a public scolding to capture the Pakistani army’s attention. And even then, the generals running the show may see a higher value in groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network than in an annual billion-dollar check from Washington.
Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.
Image: Pakistan Army soldiers stand guard during a patrol along a road leading to Central Jail Lahore December 20, 2014. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza