WASHINGTON: Amid a rapid unraveling of ties between Washington and Islamabad, the principal architect of the U.S military partnership with Pakistan has bitterly accused the country of using terrorism as a policy weapon and said it has ''lost the bet'' to be a regional player of consequence because of it.
The testimony of U.S Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen before a Senate committee on Thursday was nothing short of stunning. A passionate votary of Pakistani salience in the region (thereby earning the nickname Abu Mullen al-Amriki), America's top military officials signaled that he was read to write off the country if it did not abjure its use of terrorism.
In choosing to use ''violent extremism'' as an instrument of policy, Mullen said, using a euphemism for terrorism, ''the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence.''
''They may believe that by using these proxies, they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power. But in reality, they have already lost that bet,'' he added, alluding to Pakistan's effort to counter its perceived odds against India by straining for strategic depth in Afghanistan, a policy many analysts have said is disastrous.
Swiftly dubbed ''Sullen Mullen'' by the twitterati following the gloomy prognosis for a favored U.S military ally at one time, the U.S commander warned that ''by exporting violence, they (Pakistan) have eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being.''
Mullen however defended his strong ties to Pakistan, saying but for his effort the U.S would have been in a far tougher situation. ''I've done this because I believe that a flawed and difficult relationship is better than no relationship at all,'' he maintained.
Senators who heard the grim testimony were as downbeat on Pakistan as they sought to ratchet up pressure on what is informally now regarded as a terrorist state, while not isolating it completely.
While some of them, notably Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein, endorsed the administration's stance that Pakistan was actively using the Haqqani group for terrorist activity and demanded Washington declare it a terrorist group, it was mystifying why they did not demand the same of Pakistani army or its intelligence wing the ISI. In fact, ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha was in Washington DC earlier this week for secret talks even as the administration was accusing the ISI and the Pakistani government of proxy terrorism.
''The Haqqani Network continue to enjoy sanctuary in the country, as well as active support from Pakistan's intelligence service, which they continue to use to attack and kill Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians and Americans,'' said Senator John McCain, adding that, ''This is the fundamental reality from which we must proceed in reevaluating our policy towards Pakistan.''
Meanwhile, as Islamabad continued to defiantly deny U.S charges, an American expert on the region threw some light on the evidence Washington claims it has to link Pakistan with the Haqqani group and the attack on U.S assets in Kabul. Bruce Riedel, a CIA analyst who advised president on his Af-Pak policy told Reuters that U.S officials were in possession of cell phone used by the Haqqani group terrorists to communicate with ISI operatives during and after the attack.
The fact remains that the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as U.S. soldiers. For example, we believe 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. History teaches us that it is difficult to defeat an insurgency when fighters enjoy a sanctuary outside national boundaries, and we are seeing this again today. The Quetta Shura
and the Haqqani Network are hampering efforts to improve security in Afghanistan, spoiling possibilities for broader reconciliation, and frustrating U.S.-Pakistan relations. The actions by the Pakistani government to support them—actively and passively—represent a growing problem that is undermining U.S. interests and may violate international norms, potentially warranting sanction. 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. However, as I will discuss later, now is not the time to disengage from Pakistan; we must, instead, reframe our relationship.
Such evidence would be similar to what India acquired after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai or what the U.S got hold of following the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008. Confronted with such evidence - most notably by the CIA deputy director Stephan Kappes in meetings with Pakistani interlocutors - Islamabad's response is one of denial, bluster, and defiance, according to intelligence circles.
Similar bluster was on display on Friday following the latest development, with Pakistani leaders bristling at exposure of the country's ties to terrorists. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned in New York that the U.S risked breaking the alliance if it continued to make public such allegations and Prime Minister Gilani followed it up by suggesting Washington could lump it if it did not like it.
"You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan," Khar said in New York City, where she is attending a U.N. General Assembly meeting. "Anything which is said about an ally, about a partner publicly to recriminate it, to humiliate it, is not acceptable. We have conveyed (to America) that you will lose an ally." Gilani, on his part, was even more defiant.
"They can't live with us. They can't live without us," he crowed. "So, I would say to them that if they can't live without us, they should increase contacts with us to remove misunderstandings."
SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, U.S. NAVY
JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
BEFORE THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
ON AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
SEPTEMBER 22, 2011
SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, members of the Committee, thank you
for the opportunity to testify on the situations in Afghanistan, where nearly
98,000 U.S. forces are currently deployed; in Pakistan; and in Iraq, where we
are transitioning to a more normal military-to-military relationship. As this
should be my last appearance before you, I want to thank you for your
unwavering commitment to our national security and especially to our service
members and their families. I greatly appreciate the tremendous support you
have consistently given our military.
The security situation in Afghanistan is steadily improving. The military
component of our strategy—to the extent it can be separated from the strategy
as a whole—is meeting our objectives. Afghan and ISAF forces have wrested
the initiative and momentum from the Taliban in several key areas of the
country and have forced them out of critical population centers, particularly in
the south and southwest. Some of these areas have been Taliban controlled for
years. Our combined forces are placing sustained pressure on insurgent
groups. As a result, the number of insurgent-initiated attacks has for several
months been lower than it was at the same time last year. Security is holding
in most cleared areas, particularly in those districts where governance and
economic opportunity were also playing a constructive role. Critically, NATO
members and other coalition partners remain committed.
As a result, the insurgents have predictably shifted tactics. Rather than
confront Afghan and international security forces directly, insurgent groups
have and will increasingly focus on high profile attacks as well as assassination
attempts against high-level officials. Like the recent complex attack in Kabul
and the assassination of former president Rabbani, these incidents are
designed to reap a maximum strategic and psychological effect with minimal
input. And make no mistake, combating an insurgency is about combating
perceptions. We must not attribute more weight to these attacks than they
deserve. They are serious and significant, but they do not represent a sea change in the odds of military success. We will step up our protection of key
officials, continue our pressure on the enemy, and patiently, inexorably expand
the ANSF, their capability, and the territory they hold. I expect that following
the consolidation of gains in Kandahar in the south and Helmand in the
southwest, our forces will increasingly focus on eastern Afghanistan going into
next year’s campaign season. Given the sequencing of this campaign plan, we
do not expect to see the full extent of the effects of our military operations until
late next year.
While ISAF and Afghan forces are fighting, they are also transitioning
security responsibilities. A sensible, manageable, and, most importantly,
Afghan-led transition process is up and running. The first tranche of
transitions – selected by President Karzai in March 2011 – has already changed
hands. The three provinces and four districts in which ISAF forces have
transferred lead for security responsibilities to the ANSF are home to nearly
one quarter of the Afghan population. However, it is too early to judge how well
Afghan structures handle transition, because the first tranche locations were
already fairly developed and secure. The Afghan government and ISAF are
receiving feedback from these districts and provinces and incorporating lessons
drawn from the experience into future plans. President Karzai is expected to
announce the areas in the second tranche of transitions in the next few weeks.
I expect ISAF will be able to thin out forces and employ them elsewhere in the
country, and as conditions on the ground allow, U.S. and other coalition forces
will redeploy. As directed by the President, we will withdraw 10,000 American
troops by the end of this year and complete the withdrawal of the remaining
23,000 surge troops by the end of next summer.
Vital to this process is ANSF development. Placing security
responsibilities into Afghan hands rests on the availability of capable, credible,
and legitimate Afghan security forces. The Afghan army and police have
progressed in quantity, quality, and effectiveness far more than we thought
possible one year ago. We have helped the ANSF to already reach their 2011
end strength goal of 305,600. They are ahead of schedule. More important, the ANSF are in the fight, and the reviews from the field are increasingly
positive. The Afghan National Police, whose capabilities and professionalism
for a long time lagged behind the Army’s, are also seeing capability gains. The
ANSF now have a training base, and they will be taking on more forcedevelopment tasks during the coming year. Overwatch remains essential, and
reports of human rights violations are serious and will be investigated and
fixed. I expect the ANSF to be able to increasingly assume responsibility for
securing Afghanistan and to meet the goal of assuming lead responsibility for
security by the end of 2014.
Despite this steady progress in the areas of security and ANSF
development, however, a successful military strategy alone cannot achieve our
objectives in Afghanistan. Other critical problems remain, problems that will
undermine hard-won gains if they are not addressed.
The fact remains that the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network
operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving as
proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians
as well as U.S. soldiers. For example, we believe 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. History teaches us that
it is difficult to defeat an insurgency when fighters enjoy a sanctuary outside
national boundaries, and we are seeing this again today. The Quetta Shura
and the Haqqani Network are hampering efforts to improve security in
Afghanistan, spoiling possibilities for broader reconciliation, and frustrating
U.S.-Pakistan relations. The actions by the Pakistani government to support
them—actively and passively—represent a growing problem that is
undermining U.S. interests and may violate international norms, potentially warranting sanction. 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. However, as I will discuss later, now is not the time to
disengage from Pakistan; we must, instead, reframe our relationship.
There is also notable lack of progress in improving governance and
countering corruption in Afghanistan. Pervasive corruption, by criminal
patronage networks that include government officials—at both national and
local levels—impedes all efforts to consolidate tactical successes. Corruption
makes a mockery of the rule of law, something demanded with increasing
urgency by peoples across the region. It also hollows out and delegitimizes the
very governing institutions to which we will be transitioning authority. Few
efforts to improve government capabilities and legitimacy over the past several
years have borne fruit, and without a serious new approach, systematic change
in next three years, before 2015, increasingly seems improbable. If we
continue to draw down forces apace while such public and systemic corruption
is left unchecked, we will risk leaving behind a government in which we cannot
reasonably expect Afghans to have faith. At best this would lead to continued
localized conflicts as neighborhood strongmen angle for their cut, and the
people for their survival; at worst it could lead to government collapse and civil
Pakistan also increasingly faces the threat of corruption. It consistently
ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world by numerous
international organizations. Corruption is a hidden tax that retards business
investment and economic growth, makes politicians less responsive to people’s
needs, degrades the ability of the government to provide services, and
undermines public confidence. Just as in Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan
will struggle until the country’s leadership addresses corruption head-on. Despite these challenges and their implications for local and regional
stability, al-Qaeda in this part of the world seems increasingly incapable. With
Pakistan’s help, we have disrupted al-Qaeda and its senior leadership in the
border regions and degraded its ability to plan and conduct terror attacks. The
deaths of al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, and a great number of other
senior leaders and operators have put the organization in the worst position it
has seen since the September 11th
attacks. While the terrorist group still
retains the ability to conduct murderous attacks, with continued pressure on
all fronts, the defeat of al-Qaeda’s leadership and dismantlement of its
operational capabilities in the region is within reach.
Our interests in the region, however, do not rest solely in the operational
effectiveness of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership. The United States, the countries
in the region, and their neighbors all share interests in regional stability,
nuclear surety, and increased prosperity. That stability is threatened by too
many other factors for the United States to simply walk away once al-Qaeda is
effectively crippled. We must and will remain steadfast partners with
Afghanistan and, yes, work closely with Pakistan, as difficult or as uneven as
that relationship might be. Even as we remain committed to a conditions
based drawdown in Afghanistan and the transition of lead for security
responsibilities by the end of 2014, we must further develop the ANSF. We
should shape our ongoing assistance to Afghanistan so as to promote
reliability, accountability, and representation in both governance and the
economic environment. And we must continue to work with the government
and military in Pakistan to forge a constructive relationship.
I have spent a great amount of time during the past four years cultivating
a relationship with Pakistan’s military. I have been dedicated to this task
because I know the importance of this relationship, strained as it is, and
because I recognize the difficulties Pakistan has had and the many sacrifices it
has made in its own internal fight against terrorism. And despite deep
personal disappointments in the decisions of the Pakistani military and
government, I still believe that we must stay engaged. This is because while Pakistan is part of the problem in the region, it must also be part of the
solution. A flawed and strained engagement with Pakistan is better than
disengagement. We have completely disengaged in the past. That
disengagement failed and brings us where we are today. Thus, our
engagement requires a combination of patience with understanding what is in
Pakistan’s national interests, and a clear-eyed assessment about what is in
Even in the midst of extraordinary challenges in our relationship today, I
believe we can take advantage of this situation and reframe U.S.-Pakistan
relations. While the relationship must be guided by some clear principles to
which both sides adhere, we can no longer simply focus on the most obvious
issues. We must begin to address the problems that lie beneath the surface.
We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations
of Pakistan’s success – to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways
to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security. Those foundations must
include improved trade relations with the United States and an increasing role
for democratic, civilian institutions and civil society in determining Pakistan’s
fate. We should help the Pakistani people address internal security challenges
as well as issues of economic development, electricity generation, and water
security. We should promote Indo-Pak cooperation and strategic dialogue. We
should also help create more stakeholders in Pakistan’s success by expanding
the discussion and including the international community; isolating the people
of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive.
In summary, success in Afghanistan and in the broader region will
require substantial efforts outside the realm of security—they are now largely
in the political domain. We must address the unfinished business of safe
havens in Pakistan, poor Afghan governance, and corruption for there to be
any hope of enduring security in Afghanistan. We must work toward a
reconciliation process that produces both an intra-Afghanistan compromise
providing for a real redress of grievances and state-to-state interaction between
Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve matters of sovereign concern. And we must agree upon a Strategic Partnership Declaration with Afghanistan that will
clarify and codify our long-term relationship. Addressing these and other
internal problems will require hard work by the Afghans and by the Pakistanis
and also by us. We cannot afford to put off tackling these problems for later.
Turning briefly to Iraq, we have ended our combat mission there, and,
over a year ago, we successfully transferred lead for security responsibilities to
the Iraqi Security Forces. Iraq’s military and political leaders are responding to
the residual, but still lethal, threat from al-Qaeda and Iranian-sponsored
militant groups. As a result, and despite a drawn-out government formation
process, the security situation there remains stable, and the Iraqi people are
increasingly able to focus on jobs and development. However, the end of the
war in Iraq will not mean the end of our commitment to the Iraqi people or to
our strategic partnership. We must focus on the future to help Iraq defend
itself against external threats and consolidate a successful, inclusive
democracy in the heart of the Middle East. As we continue to draw down
forces through December 31, 2011, in accordance with the U.S.-Iraqi Security
Agreement, we will transition to a more normal military-to-military
It has been a privilege working with this Committee over the past four
years while serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in my previous
positions, as well. Your untiring efforts, while important in themselves to our
nation’s security, also serve as a much appreciated salute to our men and
women in uniform and their families during this time of war. I thank you, and
the entire Congress, on their behalf, for your unwavering support.