After announcing the upcoming designation of the Haqqani Network, two anonymous senior State Department officials gave a briefing on the action, and were challenged by reporters Justin Fishel from FOX News and Adam Entous from The Wall Street Journal on the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency’s support of the Haqqani Network (kudos to Fishel and Entous for asking the right questions):
Note how the State Dept. officials dance around the issues of Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani Network and why the US isn’t even considering adding Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism [emphasis ours]:
OPERATOR: We will now go to the line of Justin Fishel, Fox News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey there. So you may have already asked this in some ways, but I want to know specifically how you’ll be going after the funding. You talked about freezing assets. What else is going to be done in terms of sanctions? And specifically considering the linkage to the ISI with the Haqqanis, are you going to go after funding of the ISI?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: As I said before, we will be talking with government officials in a number of different countries where we suspect the Haqqanis have assets, and we will be urging them to freeze their assets and to take action against the group. And I think that I’d rather not get into it any more deeply than that, only to say that we have, of course, had, as my colleague noted, numerous conversations with the Pakistanis about the Haqqanis and the need to press them more effectively.
And I’ll leave it at that. Maybe he has something to add.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I’ll add something – just a little bit to that, which is that this is targeted specifically at the Haqqani Network. It is not targeted in any way at any organ of the Pakistani Government. And I just want to be very clear about that. We continue to talk frequently at virtually every intervention with the Pakistanis about what more can be done to squeeze the network, as the Secretary laid out in her last trip to Pakistan last fall and has talked about numerous times since then. We have a common enemy in fighting extremism given that 30,000 Pakistanis or more have been killed in the last decade, and we have a very good partnership with the Government of Pakistan on combating extremism. And as the President himself noted after the Abbottabad raid, that more terrorists have been killed in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. So this is targeted at the Haqqani Network, period.
Entous deftly follows up Fishel’s question, and reminds the State officials of the statement made last fall by Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who called the Haqqani Network “proxies of the government of Pakistan” and “a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.” Note how the State officials downplay Mullen’s comments [emphasis ours]:
OPERATOR: Okay. Our next question comes from Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. I just wanted to follow up on Justin’s question. When you say that this is targeting the Haqqani Network, period, I don’t really understand how we can say that after what Admiral Mullen said a year ago about the Haqqanis being a veritable arm of the ISI. I mean, why isn’t this a step towards looking at Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I want to just unequivocally state that this in no way is the consensus, unanimous view of this Administration; that we are making absolutely no effort to begin a process to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. If anything, as I just noted, they have been an extremely valuable ally in countering extremism and terrorism, and we are committed to continuing and maintaining and increasing that coordination and cooperation.
With regard to Chairman Mullen’s comments, I hope you also remember that he took great strides at the time to say there was too much focus on the first part of his statement and not on the second part, which was that we had to continue that engagement, we had to continue our efforts. And we are doing just that. So we have always said that we are troubled by safe havens that the Network has in Pakistan and that we will continue to work together with the Pakistanis to squeeze this, and there’s more that we can do. This is part of that ongoing effort.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I would just add to that that there has been a misperception, which I think has appeared in some articles, that there’s some kind of relationship between an FTO designation and a state sponsorship one. There is none. And I think it’s important for people to understand that there’s no legal relationship between these things. In plenty of countries, we have had groups designated and it’s never made any difference in terms of our deliberations regarding the bilateral relationship with that country, except of course to strengthen our resolve to work with them to deal with their extremism problem. So I think it’s very important that that be fully understood.
Now, this is what Admiral Mullen said back in September 2011; he couldn’t have been more clear on the ISI’s support of the Haqqani Network:
“The fact remains that the Quetta Shura [Taliban] and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity,” Mullen said in his written testimony. “Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers.”
Mullen continued: “For example, we believe the Haqqani Network–which has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency–is responsible for the September 13th attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.”
“There is ample evidence confirming that the Haqqanis were behind the June 28th attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and the September 10th truck bomb attack that killed five Afghans and injured another 96 individuals, 77 of whom were US soldiers,” Mullen continued.
During his oral testimony, Mullen reportedly reiterated his concerns about the ISI’s role in sponsoring Haqqani Network attacks.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted (a Sept. 10) truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” Mullen said, according to Reuters. “We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.”
Ultimately, the State officials can’t explain how Pakistan can be both a vital partner and one that actively sponsors terror groups like the Haqqani Network. It is no secret that Pakistan has repeatedly refused US requests to take on the Haqqani Network and other militant groups based in North Waziristan, while it has undertaken Potemkin operations to deflect further pressure. In response to Admiral Mullen’s statements last fall, the Pakistani military again rejected the call to move against the Haqqani Network.
Admiral Mullen’s policy prescriptions (that the US continue to engage with Pakistan on these issues), like those of the Bush and Obama administrations and most Pakistan watchers on both sides of the aisle in Washington, make little sense in light of the ISI’s active support of a terror group that continues to kill Coalition and Afghan soldiers as well as civilians in Afghanistan; that shelters al Qaeda and other terror groups; etc., etc.