If there were any lingering doubts of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s real agenda during her recent visit to Pakistan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen made sure every last Pakistani heard loud and clear. This was the plan from the beginning. Clinton would lay the anvil as gently as she could, then Mullen would fly in and hammer away.
A typical good cop/bad cop, State/Defense routine.
But while this relationship may be necessary in a tough environment like Pakistan, strategy is judged by utility. Islamabad might follow US “advice” to invade North Waziristan and dismantle the Haqqani network lurking inside. Or Mullen may simply end up a bad cop, literally failing to keep the peace.
Though it’s obvious what Mullen wants, how he expects to get it makes less sense. Coming out so aggressively and bluntly against Islamabad’s support of the Haqqani’s, even as he couches his rhetoric in praise, is unlikely to generate the popular support required for Pakistani leaders to act as Washington demands. This intense level of “do more” shows no concern for winning “hearts and minds” often referenced by US officials, negating Clinton’s mild attempt to shed the carrot and stick image.
Mullen is the fourth to beat the Haqqani drums in the last week. Clinton took first aim by downplaying the dialogue between Islamabad and the Haqqanis. Days later The Wall Street Journal reported that General David Petraeus will deflect anxiety in Kandahar by, “highlighting other operations that are showing success, particularly the campaign against the Haqqani terror network."
US envoy Richard Holbrooke, described as Petraeus’s “wing-man,” then fired a direct shot into Pakistan’s belly. Said the right-hand man, “There's much more cooperation at every level. But I don't want to mislead you, it is not yet where we hope it will be. What we talk about is the Haqqani network. Let's be very specific. It's a real problem."
Mullen laid down the final gauntlet, accusing Pakistan of not taking any action against the Haqqani network. He also turned up the volume of the threat: “The Haqqani group is the most lethal network faced by the US-led international forces in Afghanistan.” The war may even be unwinnable so long as Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin operate freely.
Will Pakistanis care though? Clues are hidden within Mullen’s own words.
US officials have tried desperately to link South and North Waziristan’s militancy, capitalizing on public support against the TTP to argue for action against the Haqqanis. Washington’s problem is that the TTP and the Haqqanis, while partners in crime, are different organizations and present different threats to Pakistan. The TTP turned on Pakistanis and they turned on it. The Haqqanis have yet to bring their war to Pakistan’s cities and have no visible intention of doing so, avoiding confrontation with the government and people.
Why exactly will Pakistanis care that the Haqqani network is “the most lethal network” US troops face when most believe America is the cause of Afghanistan's violence? This doesn’t make for an effective argument, especially when Pakistanis believe their hands are full in South Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, and Swat agencies. Washington should focus on aiding the rehabilitation of these areas, but the urgency of July 2011 demands an immediate - and self-serving - invasion into North Waziristan.
Nor does Mullen help his cause by repeating Clinton’s demand for action against al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Pakistani officials already rejected Clinton’s accusation that someone within the government knows their locations. True or not, Mullen will reap no benefit from copying her.
Two bad cops don’t make a right cop.
Mullen then revealed the largest gap in US policy towards Pakistan. He’s probably lost count of how many times he’s pressured Islamabad to clamp down on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), allegedly funded by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Here he is once again demanding action against LeT, but more desperately now that the group is launching attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan. Mullen realizes his normal tactics haven’t produced the desired results so he’s ratcheting up LeT as a “global threat” with dreams of al-Qaeda.
“There is heightened concern about LeT’s emergence,” Mullen warned, “and what is significant is its emergence not only on the regional stage but potentially as a terror organization with global aspiration. There is an increased level of concern where the LeT is and where it appears to be headed.”
It’s certainly possible that LeT has global aspirations. Mullen never explains why LeT, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), or any other Kashmir separatist groups, fight in the first place though.
He probably couldn’t remember the last time that he raised the conflict in Kashmir. While promising India that Washington will "bring an extraordinary amount of pressure" on Pakistan to dismantle LeT, no similar pledge is offered to Pakistan on Kashmir’s status. No mention made of Srinagar's month long riot nor its uncertain future. Mullen spoke of counter-terrorism, not counterinsurgency, insisting “the entire administration” is working towards destroying LeT.
The same cannot be said for healing the root cause that is Kashmir.
Try as they do to conceal Indian bias in US-Pakistani relations, US officials inevitably expose Kashmir’s paradox. Washington is an active player behind the Pakistani-Indian curtains, just unwilling to go anywhere near Kashmir in fear of alienating India. That it alienates Pakistan fails to register or else is deemed less important. This arrangement furthers the status quo, keeping Kashmir on lock-down and separatist groups alive.
“We can certainly continue, as we always have, to encourage India to sit down, talk at high levels, engage in the issues that have created tensions between the two countries in the past,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters this week. “It is in our interest to see the kind of substantive exchanges and dialogue that is occurring at a high level between the two countries now on a regular basis.”
The catch: “ultimately, how this proceeds, at what pace – these are decisions to be made respectively by Pakistan and India.” This is US speak for hands off Kashmir, which as an international issue extends beyond Pakistan and India. The US won’t go near the Naxalite insurgency either, though it too has transformed into an international conflict. But when it comes to approving sanctions and taking military action against LeT, “Pakistan, as a UN member, must implement this international action.”
And deeper below the surface US and Indian lobbyists actively conspire to decouple Kashmir from regional instability. The Observer Research Foundation recently teamed up with the Heritage Foundation to conclude, “regional disputes are used merely as camouflage for terrorism by Pakistan,” the same flawed argument that de-links Palestine from the wider Middle East. The ORF, like Mullen, believes LeT and all other separatist groups must be brought down while leaving Kashmir untouched.
“Understanding of this reality needs to be promoted in the US,” says ORF.
What a futile strategy for gaining Pakistan’s true allegiance and convincing it to cease funding proxy groups in the region. India is believed to employ its own agents in Balochistan, the FATA, and Afghanistan. Mullen told Pakistani military leaders that the Pentagon expects them to be sensitive to US security interests, yet Washington shows little sensitivity for Pakistan’s. Islamabad was supposed to take the money, ignore favoritism towards India, and do as told.
Whatever niceties they employ, that is the relationship US officials have in mind. No wonder Pakistan is unwilling to permanently align with Washington.
The latest Wikileaks aren’t the first to accuse the ISI of providing present day support to the Afghan Taliban, and they won’t be the last. The White House is raging largely because it sold Obama’s surge on a cooperative Pakistan. National Security Adviser James Jones blasted Wikileaks but vowed, “These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."
US troops may be endangered because the leaks expose a faltering US strategy in Afghanistan. James called the Afghan review “exhaustive,” but irresponsible is more accurate. He’s also correct in the sense that the leaks won’t do any real damage to US-Pakistani relations.
Not compared to the roots of those leaks - when US officials drop by Islamabad.