On Tuesday 13 September, Taliban insurgents attacked the center of Kabul, where embassies and the NATO-ISAF headquarter are located. The US embassy was hit at least six times by RPG rockets without causing any casualties among employees[i]. Early in the morning Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, called Reuters announcing that the “Operation Martyrdom” was under way and the targets of the attack were intelligence agency buildings and ministry[ii].
Kabul was under siege for 20 hours. At the end, 11 civilian, 5 police officers and 11 insurgents were killed[iii]. Despite the death toll was relatively low and the operation did not provide any strategic advance to the Taliban, it raised several concerns on the ability of Afghan forces to maintain security in Kabul. More than that, the “siege of Kabul” marked another low point in the US-Pakistan intelligence relations.
On Wednesday 14, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Clark Crocker, blamed the Haqqani Network for the attack in Kabul, as well as for the suicide bombing at the NATO base in Sayed Abad district, which killed 4 civilian and injured 77 NATO soldiers[iv]. US officials have always pressured Pakistan to go after the Haqqani Network, a Pakistan-based insurgent group, considered the main threat to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network
The Haqqani Network takes its name by its founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former mujahidin commander at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan[v]. Their operational base was in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency, in north-western Pakistan, as well as in Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni Wardak and Kabul provinces in eastern Afghanistan. The relation between the Haqqanis and Al Qaeda dates back to the Soviet resistance. Since then, Jalaluddin has hosted Al Qaeda’s training camps and militants in his territories in North Waziristan[vi]. At that time, the CIA considered the Haqqani militia as an important asset in the war against the Soviet Union in Central Asia[vii].
When the Soviet retreated the Haqqanis moved toward alliance with the Taliban. In 1995, Jalaluddin joined the Taliban and in 2001 he became commander-in-chief of the Taliban’s armed forces[viii]. Once again the allied became an enemy when the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.
Due to Jalaluddin’s ill health, the group is now run by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin is believed to have played an important diplomatic role in uniting tribes and in making alliances with other Taliban groups. In 2006, he was negotiating the union of various tribes of the Ahmadzai Wazir in South Waziristan[ix]. Moreover, he allegedly pursued the leader of the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP), Baitullah Mehsud, to start peace talk with Pakistani authorities in 2005 and 2008[x]. Furthermore, between 2008 and 2011 he tried to negotiate peace between the TTP and the Shia Turi tribe of the Kurram tribal region. Despite peace did not last long, Sirajuddin was instrumental in forging the cooperation between his network and the TTP[xi]. According to the BBC reporter, Ilyas Khan, all this shows the Haqqanis’ influence in tribal diplomacy and in forging militias from different tribes[xii].
American officials have always blamed Pakistani authorities to have strong ties with the network. Their relations, in fact, date back to the Soviet invasion. During the resistance, the Pakistani Inter Intelligence Service (ISI) was providing insurgents with CIA’s funds, which allowed the Haqqanis to set up a strong militia by the mid-1980s[xiii]. Moreover, in 2001 Jalaluddin was invited to Islamabad to discuss the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan[xiv]. Many in Washington claim that ISI still considers the Haqqanis as a “strategic asset” to influence the future political settlement in Afghanistan, once western troops will have left the country[xv]. In other words, Pakistan is allegedly using the Haqqanis to advance its interests in the Afghanistan peace process[xvi]. The fear that the Afghan government might tighten close relations with India makes Islamabad willing to subvert any unfavourable agreements. Attacks on US’ and Afghan’s targets, such as the murder of peace-broker Burhanuddin Rabbani, serve to remember Washington that any peace process must encounter Islamabad’s favour[xvii].
The Haqqanis represent, then, the armed wing of this diplomatic game. A proof is given by the fact that the parties refrain from attacking each other[xviii]. Furthermore, some analysts pointed out that the network would not be so operative and effective without Pakistan’s logistical support[xix]. In any case, Pakistani officials have always denied such connection.
The CIA-ISI awkward relations
The Pakistani inability, or unwillingness, to eradicate the militants from the Tribal Areas has exasperated Washington, who pressures Islamabad to retake full-control of its territory. Given the unenthusiastic response of Pakistani security forces to such request, the US started a drone strikes campaign in Tribal Areas aimed at cutting off Taliban’s/Al Qaeda’s leadership and militants. According to a study of the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism in cooperation with The Express Tribune, at least 295 drone strikes have taken place since 2004, with a sudden rise under the Obama administration (243 out of 295)[xx]. However, several casualties among non-combatants have been reported so far (392-783)[xxi]. On this regard, the US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, stated on September 14 that the US will do everything they can to defend their forces[xxii]. The statement seem to foreseen a further intensification of drone strikes in North and South Waziristan with related complaints by Pakistani officials.
However, if the US blames Islamabad for its soft hand on the Haqqanis, Pakistani authorities blame Washington to be unable to stop insurgents once they cross the Afghan border. A senior Pakistani official said that “if militants are doing something inside Afghanistan, then it is responsibility of the Afghan and western forces to hold them on the borders”[xxiii]. Another security officer stated that “Even if we were to accept that the Haqqani Network operates from bases in North Waziristan, it also needs to be acknowledged that the militants travelled a long distance inside the Afghan territory before carrying out the assault and they should have been intercepted by the Americans, who are far better equipped than us”[xxiv].
The “siege of Kabul” marked indeed another low in the US-Pakistan already awkward relations. In fact, the CIA and the ISI have been through several “incidents” in the last months. In December 2010, the CIA station chief in Pakistan was forced to leave the country after his name was leaked out in local media. According to some US official, his name was probably leaked by ISI operatives in retaliation for a civil lawsuit against ISI’s chief, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, allegedly involved in Mumbai’s 2008 attacks[xxv].
In January 2011, the US diplomat/CIA contractor Raymond Davis was arrested with the charge of having killed two men in Lahore. Despite Davis was later released in March[xxvi], the incident worsened diplomatic relations. On the one hand, the US accused Pakistan of not respecting the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic immunity[xxvii]. On the other hand, Pakistani authorities accused Davis of spying and carrying out covert operations[xxviii].
Finally, on 2 May US Navy Seals and CIA operatives killed Osama Bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, a medium-size city close to Islamabad[xxix]. Too close not to be noticed by Pakistani intelligence. The operation was, therefore, undertaken without informing Pakistani authorities, thus showing to the world stage the US mistrust toward Pakistani intelligence. This marked the lowest point in the US-Pakistan intelligence relations. In retaliations, Pakistani authorities expelled 90 (out of 130) US military trainers[xxx].
Recently, some joint operations, like the capture of Al Qaeda’s No.2 Al Mauritani on September 5, seemed to have paved the way to a new era of cooperation. A hope that the siege of Kabul has promptly contributed to put to an end.
On September 18, the US State Secretary, Hillary Rodham Clinton, met her Pakistani counterpart, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, to discuss specific steps that Pakistan should take in order to crack down the Taliban-allied group. Furthermore, several US officials had delivered an ultimatum to Islamabad saying that the “United States are ready to act unilaterally if necessary”[xxxi]. The statement did not specify whether the unilateral action will take place through drone strikes or with a ground operation. In addition, to give credibility to such statements, on September 21, the US Senate Appropriations Committee voted to make economic and security aid to Pakistan linked to their success in fighting the Haqqanis[xxxii]. At stake there are about 4.4 billion $ per year.
The Pakistani reaction was not made to wait. After denying their connection with the Haqqani Network, Pakistani official warned the US not to interfere in their sovereignty. The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, told Reuters on September 22: “The Pakistan nation will not allow the boots on our ground, never. Our government is already cooperating with the US…but they also must respect our sovereignty”[xxxiii]. He later pointed out what can be considered the very state of affairs of the US-Pakistan counter-terrorism relations. He said: “We are fighting a common enemy but unfortunately not with a common strategy”[xxxiv].
The way ahead
Considering the two, competing, strategies the US and Pakistan are following, the situation in not likely to get better in the near future. As Malik pointed out, it is time for both parties to sit dawn and find out not only a common goal but also a common counter-terrorism policy[xxxv].
On the one hand, Pakistani authorities have to decide whether or not cutting their ties with the Haqqanis. However, considering their role in Pakistan’s diplomacy, it seems unlikely they will cracking it down. On this regard, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, told that Pakistan will not “go beyond what it has already done” in going after the insurgents[xxxvi]. Leaving aside political speculations, Pakistani analysts fear the force-to-space ratio which sees Pakistani forces already over-stretched in the fight against all insurgents groups within the country. Furthermore, it is worth to mention that on September 17, Sarajuddin Haqqani, told Reuters that his men are no longer in North Waziristan but moved to eastern Afghanistan because: “we consider ourselves more secure in Afghanistan besides the Afghan people”, he said [xxxvii]. This move seems made on purpose to loosen the ISI-Haqqani nexus.
On the other hand, the US should ask themselves whether pouring so much money in Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy is an effective strategy or not. Since 2001, the US has granted Pakistan with 20 billion $ in economic and security aids. Considering that Pakistan stands at 2.3 in a scale of 10 of the most corrupted country in the world (where 0 means total corruption and 10 no corruption, according to Transparency International 2010 data), it is not surprising that those money were probably not worthily spent. According to some analyst, the bulk of the money goes to high-price western consultants and programs on behalf of the Pakistani elite. In so far, the population is left aside and provides a fertile terrain for Taliban’s recruitment[xxxviii]. In any case, the US cannot afford to lose Pakistan as ally in the war on terrorism, considering its strategic function as transit country for American troops to and from Afghanistan. In case a rupture the US might suffer increasing casualties during the displacement of troops. If a diplomatic breaking will happen, it is likely that Pakistan will tighten relations with China in order to fill the political and economic void left by Washington[xxxix].
In conclusion, both Washington and Islamabad have to stop passing the buck and start discussing a new counter-terrorism strategy aimed at the “hearts and minds” of the Pakistani society. The US has been so far preferred short term gains (security) instead of long term stability[xl]. However, the security situation in Pakistan has definitely worsened since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In fact, the number of Al Qaeda’s\Taliban’s attacks has increased in comparison with the pre-9\11 period[xli]. In addition, suicide attacks and drone strikes have made so many casualties among civil population to drive a large part of Pakistani society toward anti-American and anti-Pakistani stances. Finally, the huge flow of money that western countries are pouring for Pakistan’s development do not reach the population, which now perceives only the negative side of the US engagement in the country. These feelings push people to sympathize the Taliban instead of Washington and Islamabad, which are now perceived as the cause of the chaos.
As a consequence, the US and Pakistan should pursue a “fresh start” in their relations, as well as begin to thinking about a new counter-terrorism strategy aimed at winning the “hearts and minds” of the population, instead of keeping the present policy of “cutting the heads” of leaders of an infinite enemy army.
[i] Reuters, 6 or 7 rockets hit U.S. embassy during Kabul attack, 14/09/2011, accessed 16/09/2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/14/kabul-attack-idUSL3E7KE1WB20110914
[ii] Reuters, Taliban say targeting ministry, 13/09/2011, accessed 16/09/2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/13/afghanistan-blasttaliban-idUSL3E7KD22P20110913
[iii] Dawn News, US will pursue Pakistan-based militants: Panetta, 15/09/2011, accessed 16/09/2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/15/us-will-pursue-pakistan-based-militants-panetta.html
[iv] The New York Times, U.S. Blames Pakistan-Based Group for Attack on Embassy in Kabul, 14/09/2011, accessed 20/09/2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/world/asia/us-blames-kabul-assault-on-pakistan-based-group.html?pagewanted=all
[v] Institute for the study of war, Haqqani Network, 18/06/2009, accessed 17/09/2011, http://www.understandingwar.org/themenode/haqqani-network
[viii] Institute for the study of war, Haqqani Network.
[xv] Reuters, U.S. says Pakistan’s ISI using group for “proxy war”, 21/09/2011, accessed 21/09/2011, http://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCATRE78K16420110921
[xvi] CNN, Rabbani’s killing raises many uncomfortable questions, 21/09/2011, accessed 21/09/2011, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/09/20/world/asia/analysis-afghanistan-rabbani/
[xvii] Shamila N. Chaudhary, All road lead to Islamabad, in Foreign Policy, 22/09/2011, accessed 22/09/2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/09/21/all_roads_lead_to_islamabad
[xviii] Dawn News, Haqqani group no longer has sanctuaries in Pakistan, 17/09/2011, accessed 17/09/2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/17/haqqanis-to-follow-taliban-on-afghan-peace.html
[xix] BBC NEWS, Haqqanis: growth of a militant network.
[xx] The Express Tribune, At least 291 US drone strikes are now known to have taken place since 2004, 11/08/2011, accessed 17/09/2011, http://tribune.com.pk/story/228690/exclusive-a-drone-strike-every-four-days-under-obama/?print=true; The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Covert drone war, accessed 18/09/2011, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/
[xxi] The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Covert drone war.
[xxii] Dawn News, US will pursue Pakistan-based militants: Panetta.
[xxiii] Reuters, Pakistan says US warning on militants hurts ties, 15/09/2011, accessed 15/09/2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/15/us-pakistan-usa-idUSTRE78E22A20110915
[xxiv] Dawn News, Kabul attacks cast gloom over Pak-US engagements, 16/09/2011, accessed 15/09/2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/16/kabul-attacks-cast-gloom-over-pak-us-engagements.html
[xxv] Financial Times, CIA chief in Pakistan forced out of country, 18/12/2010, accessed 19/09/2011, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e80dd66e-0a47-11e0-84bc-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1YOltBNHU
[xxvi] Le Figaro, Le Pakistan a libéré l’espion américain Raymond Davis, 16/03/2011, accessed 19/09/2011, http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2011/03/16/01003-20110316ARTFIG00756-le-pakistan-a-libere-l-espion-americain-raymond-davis.php
[xxvii] The Guardian, American who sparked diplomatic crisis over Lahore shooting was CIA spy, 20/02/2011, accessed 19/09/2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/20/us-raymond-davis-lahore-cia
[xxviii] The Telegraph, Detained US official ‘in telephone contact with Islamic terror group’, 10/02/2011, accessed 19/09/2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8316286/Detained-US-official-in-telephone-contact-with-Islamic-terror-group.html
[xxix] The New York Times, Bin Laden Is Dead, Obama Says, 01/05/2011, accessed 19/09/2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/world/asia/osama-bin-laden-is-killed.html?pagewanted=all
[xxx] Army Times, Pakistan expels 90 U.S. military trainers, 08/06/2011, accessed 19/06/2011, http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/06/ap-pakistan-reduces-us-trainers-060811/
[xxxi] Reuters, U.S. says Pakistan’s ISI using group for “proxy war”.
[xxxii] Dawn News, US Senate ties Pakistan aid to Haqqani crackdown, 22/09/2011, accessed 27/09/2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/22/us-senate-ties-pakistan-aid-to-haqqani-crackdown.html
[xxxiii] Reuters, “No boots in our ground”: Pakistan warns U.S., 22/09/2011, accessed 23/09/2011, http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/09/22/idINIndia-59491820110922
[xxxvi] The Times of India, Pak army defies US, will not attack Haqqani group: Report, 26/09/2011, accessed 27/09/2011, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-09-26/pakistan/30203595_1_haqqani-network-sirajuddin-haqqani-embassy-and-nato-headquarters
[xxxvii] The Express Tribune, ‘No sanctuaries in Pakistan’: Haqqani network shift base to Afghanistan, 18/09/2011, accessed 23/09/2011, http://tribune.com.pk/story/254368/no-haqqani-network-sanctuaries-in-pakistan-sirajuddin/
[xxxviii] Nick Schifrin, Reading Shakespeare in Kandahar, in Foreign Policy, 08/09/2011, accessed 23/09/2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/09/08/reading_shakespeare_in_kandahar
[xxxix] Dawn News, Malik vows support China in terror fight, 27/09/2011, accesses 27/09/2011, http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/27/malik-vows-support-to-china-in-terror-fight.html
[xl] Nick Schifrin, Reading Shakespeare in Kandahar.
[xli] Amir Mir, Al-Qaeda’s roots grow deeper in Pakistan, in Asia Times Online, 09/09/2011, accessed 25/09/2011, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/MI10Df01.html