Because we live in a time when the extraordinary has become ordinary, few people even batted at eye last week at remarks by America’s senior military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In testimony to a Senate committee, Mullen publicly accused Pakistan — an American ally and recipient of $2 billion a year in military aid — of helping to carry out both a deadly, high-profile attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the truck bombing of a NATO base that wounded 77 soldiers.
The Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which carried out the attacks, “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” he continued. “We also have credible evidence that they were behind the June 28th attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.”
Questions about Pakistan’s reliability as an ally are hardly new; U.S. officials have long been critical of the level of cooperation it provided, particularly after Osama bin Laden was discovered living near a Pakistani army base. However, it’s one thing to question how much active support an ally is providing; it’s something else entirely to accuse that ally of participating in acts of war against you. After all, that is the action of an enemy, not an ally.
Given that Mullen chose to make such a charge publicly, you have to believe that the evidence to support it must be very strong, and that the behavior he condemned is part of a longstanding pattern. Indeed, the New York Times reports today on a 2007 attack on U.S. military personnel by Pakistani forces that killed Maj. Larry J. Bauguess Jr., the father of two young girls. The incident was hushed up at the time because of its political impact.
And yet, even in his testimony to the Senate last week, Mullen defended ongoing attempts to reach out to Pakistan, arguing that “a flawed and difficult relationship is better than no relationship at all. Some may argue I’ve wasted my time, that Pakistan is no closer to us than before, and may now have drifted even further away. I disagree. Military cooperation again is warming.”
Again, only in extraordinary times can a military official accuse an ally of backing attacks on our forces, then turn around and in that same session claim that military cooperation is warming. Yet frustrating as it is, Mullen’s testimony accurately reflects the tortured realities of our effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Yes, Pakistan harbors and aids Taliban guerrillas who attack our forces. Yet Pakistan also serves as a critical conduit for supplies needed to keep our forces in Afghanistan fed, armed and fueled. (In the past year, U.S. forces have sharply reduced their reliance on Pakistani supply routes, but it remains significant.) So while we have no reason to trust Pakistan, we do find the relationship useful. And they no doubt feel the same way about us.
The question is what comes next. The public nature of Mullen’s criticism suggests that the United States may be building a case for direct action against Haqqani guerrillas in their Pakistani bases, including perhaps ground action. If Pakistan won’t address the problem on its own soil, the implication is that the United States will.
With the bulk of U.S. and NATO forces scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, you get the idea that reducing the threat posed by the Haqqani network is high on the generals’ to-do list.
– Jay Bookman