By B. Raman
The past few days have seen the US fretting and fuming against Pakistan for its use of the Haqqani network to make the US forces bleed in Afghanistan reach an unprecedented new high.
This has been due to the US intelligence concluding that the Haqqani network, backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was responsible for three recent terrorist strikes—two in Kabul directed against the hotel Inter-Continental (June) and the US Embassy ( September 13)and one (September 11) in the Wardak province against a NATO base in which many US troops were injured.
While the US agencies seem convinced of the ISI’s role in backing these attacks, they still do not have an answer to the question as to why the ISI has been doing this. What does Pakistan hope to gain not only by ignoring the US pressure to act against the Haqqani network, but even by facilitating the Haqqani network’s acts of terrorism directed against US troops and interests in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani defiance of the US pressure to act against the Haqqani network has an underlying mix of two motives—one strategic and the other tactical. The strategic motive is to make it clear to the US that the success of President Barack Obama’s plans for a thinning out of the US presence in Afghanistan well before next year’s Presidential elections would depend on the US accepting Pakistan’s strategic interests and presence in Afghanistan. The tactical motive is to give vent to its anger over the USA’s unilateral raid into the hide-out of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2 last. The ISI cannot hit out at US interests in Pakistani territory. It is, therefore, doing so in Afghan territory.
In Pakistan’s calculation it holds two strong cards against the US which would continue to enable it to defy the US pressure to act.The strongest of these cards is the continuing US dependence on Pakistan for the transit of logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory. The US attempts to develop alternate options through Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have not made the required headway that could enable the US to reduce its dependence on Pakistan significantly. The option to airlift the supplies directly to Afghanistan will be expensive and will result in a big surge in the cost of the US military operations in Afghanistan.
The other card which Pakistan thinks it holds is next year’s US presidential elections and Mr. Obama’s keenness to reduce the US involvement before the elections.Pakistan feels that this would rule out any undue escalation of US operations against the sanctuaries of the Haqqani network in Pakistani territory. As the elections approach, Mr. Obama may not want to get involved in a new bloody phase of the US operations in Afghanistan—this time directed against the Haqqani network in Pakistani territory.
The US operations against the Haqqani network have till now been confined to the use of Drone (pilotless plane) strikes from the US bases in Afghanistan. The Drone strikes have been effective against Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, but have been ineffective against the Haqqani network due to the poor flow of human and technical intelligence regarding the exact location of its bases in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the movements of its leaders and cadres. For reasons that are not clear to me, while the flow of HUMINT and TECHINT about Al Qaeda and its other affiliates to the US agencies has improved, they continue to grope in the dark about the Haqqani network. This is evident from their inability to prevent repeated attacks on US targets in Afghanistan and from the poor record of the Drone strikes against the Haqqani network.
The US has to remove from the Pakistani mind the impression that the US is pathetically dependent on the transit of logistic supplies for the NATO forces through Pakistani territory. This would be possible only by the US immediately starting an air bridge from its bases in the Gulf to Afghanistan to ferry by air the logistic supplies directly to the NATO bases. This has to be done whatever be the surge in the cost of the operation.
Once the US frees itself of its dependence on Pakistan, other options would be available such as declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of international terrorism and stopping all aid and ground operations in the FATA to supplement the present Drone-dependent operations.