Panetta on Pakistan

During a trip to Afghanistan last week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta chastised Pakistan for its ongoing support for the Haqqani Network – an insurgency organization that is closely tied to al Qaeda. The Haqqani Network has long been a proxy of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), which has denied American requests to limit the insurgents’ operations. The Pakistani-backed Haqqanis have even been brazen enough to launch attacks on the American embassy in Kabul.

With respect to the ISID-Haqqani relationship, Panetta warned: “[W]e are reaching the limits of our patience.” Panetta complained, according to the Associated Press, that Pakistan allows “terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces.”

Despite US protests “time and time again” against Pakistan’s loyalty to the Haqqanis and Panetta’s promise to “continue to do that,” Pakistan has remained intractable.

In a press conference half a world away, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Panetta’s comments. “It’s our view that those Haqqani, notably, the Haqqani network, is as big a threat to Pakistan as it is to Afghanistan and to us, but we haven’t been able to find common ground on that point. So that’s been very frustrating,” Dempsey said.

The United States is “extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect that Pakistan has had on the Haqqanis,” Dempsey added.

When the complete history of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan is written, Pakistan’s duplicitous behavior will play a starring role. There was a time when the Taliban were thought to be all but defeated in Afghanistan. But the Haqqanis and other Taliban factions, aided by al Qaeda, came roaring back. One need only look east of Afghanistan’s border to figure out why. This jihadist axis continues to be dangerous to Afghanistan’s future despite being weakened in some ways by a short-lived surge in American forces and other measures.

Panetta, Dempsey, and other Obama administration officials are right to continue to point to Pakistan’s lethal assistance for the insurgency. Even when the ISID is simply turning a blind eye to the insurgents’ operations inside Pakistan it is complicit in the killing of Americans and their allies.

There’s just one problem with America’s warnings: no one has come up with any way to change Pakistan’s behavior. Various measures have been suggested, including cutting off aid, but none have been taken in earnest. And Pakistan has no reason to change its course with respect to Afghanistan as American forces are scheduled to be drawn down further.

Pakistan’s policy of supporting radical jihadist proxies will remain unchanged. Quite simply, there is no “common ground” between the US and Pakistan on this.

Something else Panetta has said about Pakistan comes to mind. During an interview on CBS‘s “60 Minutes” with Scott Pelley earlier this year, and re-aired on June 10, Panetta was asked about Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Keep in mind that the Haqqanis were bin Laden’s longtime allies.

Pelley: Elements of the Pakistani government knew [bin Laden] was there?

Panetta: I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound. Don’t forget, this compound had 18 foot walls around it. Twelve foot walls in some areas, 18 foot walls elsewhere, a seven foot wall on the third balcony of the house. It was the largest compound in the area. So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, “What the hell’s goin’ on there?”

Pelley: Is that why you recommended we not tell the Pakistanis that we were coming?

Panetta: We had seen some military helicopters actually going over this compound.

Pelley: Pakistani military helicopters?

Panetta: And for that reason, it concerned us that, if we, in fact, brought ’em into it, that they might give him, give bin Laden a heads up.

Like the history of the Afghan war, Pakistan will play a starring role in the historians’ biographies of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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11 Comments

  • Nic says:

    “There’s just one problem with America’s warnings: No one has come up with any way to change Pakistan’s behavior. Various measures have been suggested, including cutting off aid, but none have been taken in earnest.” The American consumer can pressure Pakistan to change its behavior by boycotting Pakistani products and thus stop the flow of billions of dollars to Pakistan. Most of the Pakistani exports are textiles. Source: //www.ustr.gov/countries-regions/south-central-asia/pakistan .
    Another option would be to limit student visas for Pakistani students. The American tax payer can then stop subsidizing the public university costs of a Pakistani student. Send your thoughts on this subject to your representative in Congress. //www.house.gov/representatives/find/ .

  • wallbangr says:

    I can only take some cold comfort in knowing that when the dreaded American occupiers leave the area (even if we leave a special operations contingent in place), that the jihadists are going to turn on their masters. As soon as failed American policies can no longer be blamed for civilian strife on both sides of the border, these folks are going to bite the hand that has fed them. Without Americans to take pot shots at, does anyone really expect that these guys are going to put down their guns and IEDS and go home? The Pak public might just stand idly by, as they have thus far done, while their corrupt and double-dealing government and security services continue to steer the Country toward ruin, but the Afghans are already growing tired of the ISI and their ilk. And who knows? Pakistan is one natural disaster or other economic calamity away from falling into total disarray. The ISI will still try to back the strong man in Afghanistan, but these groups are going to turn on each other and on their handlers. Without a common enemy in the Americans, they will likely find one in the people who have perpetuated the chaos and instability. That’ll be the price of giving these folks aid and sanctuary, and the Paks are deluding themselves if they think these groups feel like they owe them a favor. Karzai will be in an equally unenviable position but, like Pakistan itself, he will have put himself there. I worry about what the future holds once we withdraw (or, put more accurately, how quickly we may have to return to disrupt terrorist operations in safe havens), and was never big on making the intention to withdraw known so early on. Hopefully it serves as a motivator for Karzai and the Afghan people to get their house in order in light of the coming storm. But to the extent that the Paks have been frothing at the mouth for the opportunity to exert their hegemonic aims in the region unfettered by American aims, I’m hopeful that they get what they wish for. I suspect that it will mean inheriting problems they have had the luxury of not having to deal with until now. It will likely be tragic, but interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • rk says:

    I know commenters on this site and others have said this, but I’d like to re-up the idea that USG pays whatever exorbitant amount Pak wants to charge per freight to re-open Chaman/Torkham routes, with the difference being reallocated from future Pak aid packages.

  • I am afraid that Washington is nearly blind to the possibility of a nuclear 9/11 on the American soil, likely envisioned in a Sunni Plutonium factory called Pakistan.
    //frontpagemag.com/2010/04/28/the-pakistani-third-reich/
    The noted quotes of the American defense establishment’s leaders are disappointing, to say the least.
    Pakistan’s sponsorship of al Qaeda does not appear to be merely tactical, but is part of a strategic vision it shares with the leaders of al Qaeda to “remake” the world.
    In this view, as Bin Laden himself articulated, America has to be cut down to size. Pakistan’s plutonium producing reactors are to be seen in this context.
    Yes, Pakistan is a difficult nut to crack, but it is not an impossible one.
    I am at a loss to understand why any responsible American leader would overlook a threat of this magnitude.

  • Charu says:

    To paraphrase Churchill, ‘Pakistan is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Pakistan’s national interest’.
    Except that it is hard for anyone else to see how any of this is in Pakistan’s national interest, other than their military’s absurd obsession to savage India. The latter had long railed about Pakistan’s duplicitous sponsorship of terrorism and until recently the West, and the US in particular, and their associated media and analysts were content to play it as he-said-she-said; essentially siding with Pakistan’s outrageous outlaw behavior.
    It is time that the world take collective action to punish Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders for their rogue behavior. This should include their bank accounts, investments and properties abroad – particularly in the UK and in the Gulf States. Their travel abroad should be curtailed and those living in exile, like Gen. Musharraf, need to be held accountable for their rank duplicity when they were in charge. Many of these people act in a manner hostile to the West’s interests when they are in power, and yet they have family members and children who live comfortably abroad, who enjoy the benefits of the rule of law and order and security even as these are denied to their citizens and those of neighboring countries. Pakistan’s civilian and military elites need to pay for their misbehavior!

  • Keith says:

    What should be done is to have Pakistan declared a terrorist sponsoring state and have the full gamut of sanctions imposed on them. I don’t think there is a country in the world that would disagree with that.
    Pakistan has been a client state of the US–not the Russians nor the Chinese. With the two most likely candidates to veto any sanctions on their own terrorist states not being connected with Pakistan, that country stands alone.
    Yes, Pakistan could attempt to find refuge by cozying up to China or Russia, but both suffering from their own Islamic terrorism coupled with Russia currently being out on a line over Syria there’s not much chance the Pakistanis will find a new ally willing to stick its neck out.
    In fact, if we play this right and apply real pressure, we could get the Pakistanis to expend their blood and treasure getting rid of our enemy.
    The Pakistanis have put themselves in quite a vulnerable spot, which–given their horrendous treatment of their long-time American ally–we should have no moral dilemma in exploiting to our fullest benefit.

  • Alan Hawk says:

    A week or so earlier, Leon Panetta praised India’s role in Afghanistan, encouraging them to provide more support. Pakistan’s support of the Haqqanis is to ensure they have a say in Afghanistan’s future. The simple answer to the question why Pakistan is supporting this group is that they believe it is in their own interest. Pakistan has one main fear, that it will be dismembered. The ruling elite is aware how fragile their national consensus is. General Zia-ul-haq built his political governing system of Islam grounds that Islam was the one characteristic that Pakistanis could build a national consensus around. Pakistan is in a situation not unlike the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the First World War with all of their competing nationalities. India is a threat since it had already dismembered Pakistan, creating Bangladesh out of East Pakistan. Afghanistan is an existential threat since it shares a large Pashtun population with Pakistan. In the late 1960’s, Afghanistan invaded Pakistan, and was handily defeated by the Pakistani Army, ultimately leading to the communist coup in Afghanistan that later brought the Soviets in. The main threat to Pakistan is the Taliban movement evolves into a Pashtun national movement that could separate another province out of the Pakistani nation. If they can control the Taliban, through the Haqqani clan, they can keep their nation intact.
    If you are looking for a pressure point, the way to threaten Pakistan is to threaten their dismemberment, if we dare.

  • Paul D says:

    Its all about security for the Pakistanis.
    They see Taliban and Haqqani as securing their western border from outside threats ie US/India and Israel in their paranoid minds.
    US wont change that mindset.

  • Mr T says:

    I don’t get it. Panetta says helicopters flew over the compound and that makes him think they would warn OBL? If there is a military base in Abbottabad, wouldn’t helicopters flying over the compound be routine?
    Were they flying in circles like they were protecting the compound or dropping supplies? I don’t think military helicopters going over the coumpiund would lead me to the conclusion that they knew OBL was there.
    Also high walls, are those walls uncommon in Pakistan? Seems like everyone has “compounds there.

  • Charu says:

    Pakistani helicopters do not fly at night. I think that what Panetta meant was that this compound wasn’t in some isolated location and that Pakistani military helicopters did fly over the compound and no one there sought to investigate who the inhabitants were. It was right next to the Pakistani West Point and it stood out in its design (high walls, few windows, maze-like entry driveway) from other houses in the area.
    This in a country where the ISI has a formidable network of spies and informers and keeps very close tabs on all foreigners. And yet Bin Laden managed to live a comfortable domesticated life in Abbottabad for nearly 10 years! He had to have been protected by key people in their all powerful military to have been sheltered this long. It is a given that if the Pakistanis were informed prior to the raid, Bin Laden would have been given a heads up – just as the duplicitous Pakistanis have done on many other occasions with their terrorist assets.
    This is not time for moral relativism. Security for the Pakistanis does not mean insecurity for everyone else. It is the assets of their radical mullahs and their military/landowning/business elite that needs to be targeted. There must be consequences to them for their outlaw behavior!

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Instead of “chastising” them, let’s cut their aid to zero, and simply go after the Haqaani high command ourselves via drones and Tier 1 unit strikes. We need to bring the hammer down on the Haqqanis and show the Pakis which superpower runs things around this world.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis