The visit to Islamabad last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, may have worsened rather than improved bilateral military ties in the short-run. But a little shock therapy might actually have done the US-Pakistan relationship some long-term good.
Mullen caused some controversy when he stated in a series of media interviews before his meeting with Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani what everyone already knows: that certain elements within Pakistan’s intelligence community retain ties with certain jihadi groups. Although after the meeting Mullen told journalists travelling with him that bilateral security ties remained strong, he acknowledged that, ‘Still, not all is brightness and light.’
He was right to highlight the continuing problems presented by this jihadi connection, and the relationship between the US and Pakistani governments can only really get stronger if both sides work on reforming Pakistan’s security sector.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
It’s true that significant progress has been made in this area already, especially through four years of direct talks between Mullen and Kayani. But more needs to be done to address the trust deficit between the two countries, as well as to ensure that elements in Pakistan’s security sector don’t become a disruptive force as the US military starts to reduce its presence in Afghanistan.
Mullen was nominally travelling to Islamabad to help mend fences broken by the Raymond Davis affair. Davis was a CIA contractor working under the cover of the US Embassy in Islamabad who shot two Pakistani men in January. Davis claims that he thought the two men, who some believe might have been Pakistani intelligence agents keeping him under observation, meant to rob him. Regardless, the affair highlighted the complex relationship between the two intelligence agencies, whose members distrust one another even as they work together in joint operations.
Although a Pakistani court released Davis after compensation was paid to the victims’ families, the affair has badly strained relations, with the Pakistani government refusing to support US claims that Davis enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Many Pakistanis complain the incident exposed problems inherent in the large US intelligence presence in their country, with the CIA not only working with the Pakistani government to identify and arrest suspected terrorists, but also collaborating to identify targets for US drone strikes on Pakistani territory.
Yet it wasn’t long before Mullen’s candid discussion with the media about the continuing links between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Haqqani network became the focus of attention. The ISI supported the network, as well as the Afghan Taliban, in the 1990s, but claims to have severed all ties with these groups since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Haqqani network, which supports some of the most brutally effective insurgents in Afghanistan, and which has links with al-Qaeda, still has its main base of operations in North Waziristan, on the Afghan-Pakistan border. This area remains outside the control of the Pakistani military, leaving US drone strikes as the sole means of attacking targets there given that Pakistani authorities have prohibited cross-border operations by US and Afghan government forces on their territory.