US Takes Gloves Off With Pakistan
Image Credit: US Defence Department

US Takes Gloves Off With Pakistan


You could be forgiven for dismissing the latest diplomatic spat between the United States and Pakistan as just another hiccup in a long-estranged marriage. Trading accusations and navigating diplomatic crises has become a weekly affair for this deeply troubled alliance. But the broadside launched against Pakistan by the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in congressional testimony on September 22 represents a rupture so dramatic that its significance is difficult to overstate. 

On Thursday, Adm. Mike Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan was using ‘violent extremism as an instrument of policy’ and said the Haqqani network, Af-Pak’s deadliest militant outfit, ‘acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Internal Services Intelligence Agency.’ Mullen further explained that Pakistan was using militant proxies to ‘hedge their bets’ in Afghanistan, adding, ‘in reality, they have already lost that bet.’ To be sure, independent analysts and former government officials have been airing such complaints for years. But never in the long, dark history of the Afghan war have serving officials so unequivocally called Pakistan to account for its double game. 

Pakistan’s reaction was swift but uninspiring. The country’s new foreign minister warned that the United States ‘cannot afford to alienate Pakistan,’ while Mahmood Shah, a former army brigadier, explained that the US is simply ‘mak(ing) Pakistan the scapegoat for (its) failures in Afghanistan.’ Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani added: ‘They can’t live with us.  They can’t live without us.’

That sort of response simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. The Obama administration – indeed, the country at large – has lost faith in Pakistan. The turning point for the White House appears to have been the September 13 attack on the US embassy in Afghanistan; a brazen assault by Haqqani network insurgents that resulted in a 20-hour gun battle in a fortified corner of the Afghan capital. Just a few days earlier, the Haqqani network orchestrated a truck bombing outside a US base in Wardak that wounded 77 US soldiers and killed five Afghans. 

Indeed, a barrage of crises has been propelling the United States and Pakistan toward a reckoning for months. The year opened with the Raymond Davis saga, when Pakistan refused to grant diplomatic immunity to a US contractor who killed two armed Pakistanis in a mysterious confrontation in January. That was followed by the expulsion of US military trainers and intelligence agents and a diplomatic row over visas to US officials. A series of US drone strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s tribal lands strained ties even further, as did the continuing refusal of the Pakistani military to launch an assault on the militant stronghold of North Waziristan. The discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden in May in a wealthy suburb miles from Pakistan’s premier military academy served as the grand finale.

The bin Laden raid raised red flags across Washington, not least on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers were told by then-CIA director Leon Panetta the Pakistanis ‘were (either) involved or incompetent.’ Many congressmen and senators, long in the dark or uninterested in South Asian affairs, were shocked to find the degree to which Pakistan was misusing American aid and harbouring US enemies. Key congressional leaders began demanding a fundamental reassessment of the United States’ Pakistan policy, and in July the US announced it was withholding $800 million in Pakistani aid.

Pakistan has fared little better inside the administration. Under former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pentagon had been a staunch opponent of taking a tougher line with Islamabad. The defence department helped torpedo stiff restrictions on US aid to Pakistan in the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar bill. But now Gates is out, and tough talking Leon Panetta is in. As the United States’ top spy from 2009 to 2011, Panetta is intimately familiar with the ISI’s transgressions. He expressed his frustrations recently, explaining, ‘Time and again, we’ve urged the Pakistanis to exercise their influence over (the Haqqanis) and we’ve made very little progress. The message they need to know is: we’re going to do everything we can to defend our forces.’

Panetta will find an ally in his replacement at the CIA. David Petraeus carries his own intimate knowledge of Pakistan’s double game, having served as the top US commander in Afghanistan for the past year. His heroic efforts there were consistently stifled by the safe haven and support Afghan militants receive from Pakistan, and his relationship with Pakistan’s generals is famously estranged.  The Agency has its own bone to pick with Pakistan: the CIA blames the Haqqani network for a December 30, 2009 bombing at an agency outpost in Khost, Afghanistan that killed seven CIA officers – the single deadliest attack on US intelligence personnel in the Agency’s history.  Moreover, the last two CIA station chiefs were forced to leave Pakistan after they were publicly ‘outed’ in December 2010 and May of this year.  Nor will Pakistan find help inside the State Department, which is still reeling from the embassy attack. The new US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, told Radio Pakistan on September 17 that the Haqqani network was responsible for the assault and ‘there is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government…This is something that must stop.’

February 21, 2012 at 23:09

Then I guess we shulod give women in the Middle East guns and train them. Let see if the men want to oppressed armed women. An armed people are a free people.

February 21, 2012 at 13:33

So Nasser will be this board’s real life acvtdaoe of colonialism. I didn’t think people like this actually existed.I consider Iran lucky that this viewpoint is a minority, an essentially inconsequential one at that.

October 14, 2011 at 09:38

I am inclined to believe that democratic values and principles are not guiding principles on foreign policy. There is a good rationale for it. On domestic issues, there is an overall control so democratic principles can be used for guidance and where deemed necessary influenced and enforced. This is not true on a foreign environment and therefore civilised engagement is essentially on a jungle law. Put this this way, friendship is good but do you really want to trust it with your life? Even if you are the most powerful de jour?
I fully understand why self-interest is placed at the fore while yet advocating and advertising and where possible influencing on democratic principles.
It is just that while dealing with the United States, other state actors should keep this in mind. United States is capable and when appropriate does play for a win-win. However, it does also bargain very hard. You just do the same! It should be that simple.

kevin anderson
October 5, 2011 at 08:17

it is time for action not words,the american defence policy towards pakistan has been far to tolerant,due to the long term inconsistancies by the pakistan government in realation to past and current events,i have always believed the if you support terror then you are part of many more must die before positive action is taken.

October 4, 2011 at 08:46

@Ansar: I suggest you read some books on History and current affairs rather than just watching Zaid Hamid on TV.That idiot has nothing but a big mouth and sweats lies from every pore of his body.His brand of Geopolitics is only for Lunatics.You seem to be following him big time & naturally, your post seems to be a concise set of his best ramblings. Are we to believe that all of Pakistan’s problems are the work of India while none of India’s problems are the work of Pakistan?? What pathetic brainwashing!! This is what happens when a spy agency runs a country by proxy!!

How are Christions, Shias, Hindus and Muhajirs treated in Pakistan today? What’s happening in places like Karachi, FATA, Baluchistan, Swat, Khyber pakhtunwala? Why does Karachi resemble a war zone today? Well, that’s none of my concerns as I’m not Pakistani! But I’ll leave you to think over that….

September 29, 2011 at 03:54

Adm. Mullen’s words on Pakistan come under scrutiny

“Mullen’s language “overstates the case,” said a senior Pentagon official with access to classified intelligence files on Pakistan, because there is scant evidence of direction or control”

Haqqani network controlled by Taliban, not Pakistan

September 29, 2011 at 01:50

Pakistan is young nation and still straggling to find right identity in order to keep the country united. Islam was used for separation from India but nowadays is not serving for the country’s development as prosper and stable unity of different ethnic group with very different level development. For the foreign countries and particularly for the USA should be more attention paid for the development of the ethnic region of Pakistan and not only supporting just Punjabi.

Jay Bhattacharjee
September 28, 2011 at 14:23

An elegant and perceptive article. However, a few nagging questions that Mr. Smith may like to answer / deal with. Before that, a caveat : I am far from that (very small) group of Indians who harbour an instinctive hostility to the US and Americans. Indeed, like the overwhelming majority of Indians from my socio-economic segment, I have a lot in common with, and considerable empathy for, American thought, principles, values and norms. Now the queries : (1) How is that a manifestly democratic country’s establishment could flagrantly override its basic values in order to nurture and protect a virulently anti-democratic and fundamentalist country for so many years ? The fig – leaf of containing the Soviet Union etc. doesn’t really wash any longer. That argument, in any case, was operative before the demise of the USSR. (2) Post – Sept. 2001, how could the Pakistanis make such complete fools of the Pentagon and the State Department ? (3)Would Mr. Smith admit that there is such a thing as “institutional memory” that can override logic and common sense ? This phenomenon clearly fogs the mind of the Pentagon and State. (4) Has the Pakistani establishment some other unknown lever over American decision – makers ? (no, I am not a conspiracy theory buff).

September 27, 2011 at 15:53

There are few fundamental aspects that need to be taken into consideration in so far as Pakistani military is concerned.
1. Current bluster is nuanced upon perception of TINA factor and belief that Americans after a lot of venom letting may come around to compromise. This may well be true.
2. Pakistani military despite its great strategic engagement with US and others remain tactical in approach, and has lived by miscalculations, all these 64 years be it 1971 or 1999. Former led to creation of Bangladesh. There is therefore a sense of denial and too much self belief which can be counter-productive at times.
3. This whole notion of strategic depth is misplaced, until it is matched by strategic vision, which I do not see. To what good is strategic depth if the country itself is on the brink of economic collapse.
4. china support and belief that China will pull its chestnuts out of fire is also misplaced, may I respectfully remind 1965 and 1971 once again.What is Chinese aid or assistance to Pakistan? Not even one billion dollars.
5. Current hubris is based on Pakistani nuclear capability and nuanced posturing more implied than even mentioned. Basic issues is will Pakistan be willing to play this brinkmanship card?
The best option for Pakistan is to seek guarantees from US and even India, Iran and other regional actors that Pakistani security interests in Afghanistan will not be compromised. it is in its own interest to get down from Haqqani and TTP tiger for the sake of its own future and stability. Hope better sense prevails on all sides.

September 27, 2011 at 14:44

It is time for a new day with strong Leaders, in Washington and absolutely no tolerance of bs from Pakistan or any of the tribes or anyone anywhere.
Either you deal with us honestly and are on our team or we will not deal with you but against you.

W.S.Anderson, USN, USMC
September 27, 2011 at 14:32

Your India obsession is showing, The article is about Pakistan’s duplicity and failures in it’s relationship with the USA, and Pakistan’s downward spirals economically, politically,and militarily. You seem also to be enamored with who’s Nuke is bigger shower comparisons, (they are pitifully minuscule.), the USA has more nukes on just FIVE of it’s Trident armed submarines then Pakistan and India combined. Address the articles real points.

September 27, 2011 at 13:57

This has nothing to do with Afghanistan and nothing to do
with the US. The real conflict remains Pakistan-India.
Pakistan’s ISI and military only need Afghanistan so they
can turn up the militant violence which ripples over into
Pakistan. At any time these forces can be manipulated
to attack India. As long as there is instibility in Afghanistan
India remains uncomfortable and that’s exactly Pakistan’s
brilliant yet totally self-destructive strategy.

W.S.Anderson, USN, USMC
September 27, 2011 at 13:50

No , ISI complacency will be disastrous for Pakistan, after all this is not the US’s neighborhood. The US may lose patience “Bounce the Rubble” and leave the area quarantined. Remember the USA is the only nation that has dropped nukes, and politically & culturally has no real regrets. Will Pres. Obama go “Full Monty” probably not, but a GOP anti-Muslim future president is a much more likely actor.

W.S.Anderson, USN, USMC
September 27, 2011 at 13:26

Pakistan’s people must decide, once and for all, are they friends or foe, this cowards game has run out.

Duke Chan
September 27, 2011 at 11:55

China is behind all of these. China wants to tie down the US as long as possible in Afga and Irag so China can displace the US in the Asia. China pays Pakis to perform this difficult, dirty task, this is China’s day dream, unfortunately look at what’s happening now, China is contained at the SCS by Japan, India, Australia, Singapore………………good work uncle SAM.

September 27, 2011 at 11:41

It’s like a dog you bought, who has turned rabid, doesnt listen to you and wants to do its own thing. It tells you that now if you leave me, I will bite you, the neighbours and every one on the block ! Osama’s caught in your backyard, Haqqanu group fires at US troops, we lose US soldiers everyday and all YOU guys can say is leave us and the wordl becomes dangerous ? Guys its time the Army in your country let you know the meaning of Diplomacy and Democracy, the way it is !

Kabir Javaid
September 27, 2011 at 07:22

The biggest enemy in this War in Afghanistan isn’t the Taliban, but U.S. and Pakistani media. They continuously try to create a rift among the relations of two nations and create an opinion which is truly not in favor of both nations. If both nations become hostile to each other, it will be a complete disaster to both of them and there is a great chance U.S. might be stuck in Afghanistan for another decade with no way out. There are only two roads out of Afghanistan, one is the Khyber Pass (taken by Alexander the great himself in Pakistan), the second is the northern distribution route, taken by the Soviets. Now you decide which route you prefer.

September 27, 2011 at 06:01

Well said Agree. Let’s kid dream of capturing or destroying Pakistan. the best way to keep them quiet is to give them a lollypop. Pakistan nation has never been so united as Pakistani’s are right now, any aggression or attempt to destabilize Pakistan could have disastrous circumstances for the whole region. Pakistan’s is a nation that has a bright future ahead and it’s important for the countries like USA and India to maintain a friendly relationship with Pakistan. It would be in best interest of all.

September 27, 2011 at 04:07

@ samantha dev & Saifuddin Hussain.
No power on the earth can separate any part of Pakistan. You are advised to stop day dreaming. As for as Pakistan is concerned it is not doing any double gaming with US. In fact it is US which is double gaming with Pakistan. Right from the day one when US invaded Afghanistan, it managed to get a foot hold on that soil with the help of Pakistan and then managed to stay their with Pakistan’s support. Till this day Pakistan has provided the logistic life line to US which they have used to transport their weapons and heavy equipment for their bases. Entire fuel for their military machine is transported through Pakistan. During first one or two years when US did not have their bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan provided its air bases for US Air support to their troops in the battle. Pakistan also provided intelligence support when CIA was still trying to find local agents for assistance. It was again Pakistan which captured more than 500 Al-qaeda leaders and operatives including Khalid Sheikh Muhammad,the master mind of attack on twin towers. On US demand, Pakistan has deployed more 200000 troops on Pak- Afghan border in support of US operations in Afghanistan. On US demand Pakistan launched a massive operation against those Pakistani Taliban who have been fighting in Afghanistan or providing sanctuaries to the Afghan Taliban. The moment Pakistan stared its operation the US forces withdrew their border posts and allowed these Taliban to slip into safe heavens in Afghanistan. For the last so many months these Taliban have been crossing over from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani border villages and posts, aided and facilitated by NATO forces. All along Pakistan has been tolerating the US double gaming and has sacrificed lives of 5000 soldiers and more than 35000 civilians. Pakistan’s economy has suffered a loss of over $ 70 billion. US says that Pakistan is its key non NATO ally but is not prepared to safeguard Pakistan’s national security interests. Why US is not telling Pakistan about its plans for future Government and security structure in Afghanistan, if Pakistan really an ally. US is making all sorts of efforts to open up dialogue with the Taliban but is pressurizing Pakistan to attack the Taliban. Long ago Haqqanis who are about 10 to 15 % of the total strength of Taliban, have left Waziristan and are now spread all over Afghanistan. Afghanistan a land locked country, is Pakistan’s next door neighbour. For its trade and economy it has been and will always be dependent on Pakistan. When ever there has been a turmoil in Afghanistan, Pakistan acted as its strategic depth. Even today Pakistan has over 3 million Afghan refugees on its soil. It is therefore very important for Pakistan to work for a stable and friendly Afghanistan. If the international community wants peace and stability in this part of the world then the natural and only solution is to include Pakistan in the peace process with due regard to Pakistan’s security concerns in the region. On the other hand US is double gaming. It publicly declares Pakistan as its key ally and also gets all sort of help from Pakistan for the ultimate victory but has no regard for Pakistan’s legitimate security interests and does not want Pakistan to be the part of peace process. Today Pakistan Army is already over stretched and its war machinery has been roughed out with no replacement coming from US. Pakistan is just not in a position to open up another front. For this very reason Pakistan is not going to oblige US by meeting their unending demand of DO MORE. Pakistan has already done more than any other county in the world. People of Pakistan now feel, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

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