US State Department evades issue of Pakistan’s links to Haqqani Network

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.

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  • LPD-RI says:

    Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
    Our response to Pakistan’s blatant state sponsorship of terrorism is, for lack of a better word, insane.

  • Gerald says:

    Unfortunately its the only way to keep the road out of Afghanistan open. Unless we want to pull an Anabasis to Karachi.

  • Jay says:

    This makes me so angry. When is any president going to take real action against these groups and hold Pakistan accountable.

  • Charu says:

    Katabasis to Karachi? We are between a rock and a hard place because of poor choices made by the previous administration. This administration has been more atune with Pakistan’s duplicity and took some bold moves; withdrawing from Iraq and the Afghanistan surge, upping the drone attacks in an undeclared war on Pakistan, standing firm against the Pakistani blackmail over the CIA agent Davis and the NATO attack on the Pakistani frontline base, etc.
    However, like its handling of the economy, the measures were ultimately unsuccessful. Just as it wouldn’t punish the rogue behavior of the too-big-to-fail banks for fear of triggering a depression-wide financial collapse, it won’t punish the rogue behaviour of the Pakistani military for fear of breaking down the only functioning institution in that near-failed state and allowing the many state-sponsored terrorist groups there to get their hands on the ultimate weapon of mass terror. There are just no easy solutions.
    Sure, the Pakistani military is no match for ours, and have repeatedly shown themselves to be unprofessional and undisciplined, and could be easily defeated. But they are quite capable of fighting as a guerilla force; as they have shown under the guise of the Taliban. At the best, we would be able to temporarily carve out a corridor to Gwadar to pull out our troops and equipment – something that could still be achieved by diplomacy today. At worst, the jihadists would take over the failed state and its nukes would fall into their hands.
    I am sure that even though the State Department is publicly disavowing any plans for targeting the ISI as a terrorist organization, all contingencies are being worked on and Pakistan is one step closer to being designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, and that this is quietly being drilled into their rogue military leadership.

  • JRP says:

    The 800LB gorilla in the room here is the fact that Pakistan possesses a good many nuclear warheads and probably has a less than adequate security system for them.
    Further, not since Fidel Castro in 1962 has the U.S. faced an enemy so willing to actually use nuclear weapons against us.
    To take advantage of plausible deniability, I would not put it past anti-Western fanatics in the Pakistani Govt/ISID/Military to arrange for Taliban/Al Qaeda to gain access to Nukes and blame the sure-to-follow detonations with protestations of innocence.
    We need to do what Pres. Kennedy did with Cuba back in ’62. He flat out said that any Nuke launched from Cuba would be considered Soviet in origin.
    We need to tell the Pakistani Govt/ISID/Military that any detonation on the U.S. Homeland will be deemed to be Pakistani in origin. Then we back it up with offshore nuclear-armed U.S. Naval Forces ready to unload on Pakistan whenever our Commander-in-Chief, whoever that survivor may be after Washington DC vanishes in a mushroom cloud, gives the launch order.

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    Foggy Bottom’s intransigence is all about rice bowl.
    Designate the ISI (or even, just its S-Wing) and State’s diplomatic functions inside Pakistan go bye-bye.
    It is an argument for removing the designation power from State, though I don’t know where else to put it.
    Perhaps the real problem is State’s top-level boss, who is so infatuated with diplomacy.

  • Charu:
    Insightful comments.
    Putting it in another way, Pakistan has become a modern avatar of the Third Reich. It is too driven by an ideological fervor, much like the old Reich.
    “Rogue” behavior of Pakistan has now become systemic and is now part of the ideological narrative that drives the nation.
    Hence, it is hard to see if anything less than a massive military defeat and physical losses suffered leading to a change in its course.

  • Bonnie says:

    Re: “Admiral Mullen’s policy *proscriptions,* like … ”
    To “proscribe” is to forbid, so you
    meant “prescriptions,” not “proscriptions.”

  • Charu says:

    Muthuswamy, that was a very perceptive article and food for thought. I am surprised that Israel hasn’t viewed the Sunni bomb as a greater threat to its existence than the Shia bomb. The Persians are an ancient civilization and I don’t believe that they are suicidal. The Pakistanis, however, have a manufactured identity and, based on their reckless nuclear brinkmanship and proliferation, are closer of the mindset of a suicide bomber.

  • kimball says:

    To bet on the donkey in the race is a bit what US has
    done since Nixon/Kissinger supported state genocide
    in the west/east Pakistan (Bangla desh) conflict.
    So much better to isolate Pakistan, woo India and apologise to Iran for the coup in the 50’s.
    But no, and then you are stuck and paying through the nose.
    Kissinger warned about the thought to containe China and the futility of the thought, so the superdeal – Russia – US – China – Iran-India would have taken us to the next level, but nix, we are stuck in pride and with as little mojo as when the Russkies used tugboats for there warships to save gas.

  • Eric says:

    We can understand the administration officials’ comments in this context: (As correctly stated by other commenters already) Pakistan cannot be treated as or even openly characterized as a state sponsor of terrorism for the US State Department to have functional capabilities within Pakistan. Those functions are vital to US activities in Afghanistan, but after a certain phase of the NATO drawdown is completed, they become far more flexible, and things get interesting.
    The Pakistanis are facing a staring contest in the coming winter. They will be told what they must do with the militant havens in the FATA, and how the rules must be changed with militant leaders, the Quetta Shura, etc, being harbored in Pakistan at large. If they blink, the US will openly declare them a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and economic and diplomatic sanctions and containment posturings will be rapidly invoked. The US Congress is all too willing to see these actions through.
    Those moves will be supported by EU and Commonwealth nations. And the Pakistanis will have a Military Coup. One more terrorist attack originating from Pakistan will be all the pretext the US needs to enter the FATA with its own forces and clean house. Balochistan will be occupied by US forces as well to provide a seaport and logistics corridor.
    Balochis will have a chance at independence if they unify their support for the US forces, but I calculate they will blow their chance – they are too for sale to live up to any bargain they make with the US, just like their masters in Islamabad.
    If India plays their cards right, there will be no US ground invasion, and Pakistan will renounce terrorism and be reborn as an active partner in the dismantling of radicalism’s institutional networks.
    If India rejects the ultimatum forced upon them by the nuclear elephant in the room, then there will be a US ground invasion, and the FATA will we annexed to Afghanistan, and Balochistan will be granted full statehood within Pakistan as exit terms for a US ceasfire. No more reindeer games over who controls what.
    I am not trumpeting these events-yet-to-come as though it is the settled policy of the Obama administration to do all these things. None of the nations involved has any better option. There is no other way to withdraw from Afghanistan and then continue to support the Afghans and prevent a Taliban resurgence from breaking the Afghan government. This showdown with Pakistan has been in the cards since the US invaded Afghanistan in the first place, and it will not play out any other way, because it simply cannot. This is the outcome forced on everyone by the events of the last 10 years, not a new set of ultimatums contrived by US leadership.
    So the Pakistanis are in no way to be described as state sponsors of terror – until they are. When the switch is flipped to the “They Are” position, the whole game changes.
    Pakistan has few options if it wants to survive as a sovereign nation. the PAF will most likely take the path of least sacrifice to resolve their crisis. If they make extreme and very unlikely choices to escalate hostilities, there are some scary possibilities, but no outcome that works for Pakistan’s victory on their own terms. The Pakistanis may choose to use nukes on the battlefield, but whatever remains after they are counter-attacked will become a part of India if they did use nukes. Al Qaeda may be given a nuke, and try to detonate it in Washington, but this will render all islamic radicals as untrestricted targets for extermination with extreme prejudice worldwide, and would be the end of Militant Islam openly practising outside of the criminal underworld.
    These things are not coming because the Pakistanis are disliked or distrusted – which they are by pretty much the entire free world – but rather because the Pakistanis made the deliberate choice to sponsor radical islamism, and because they are too hopelessly corrupt to control the situation they have created within their own borders. If they were not a nuclear power, they could enjoy failed statehood on their own dime. But they are, so we will have compel them to live up to their statehood one way or another, and tough titties if their sovereignty gets stepped on in the ensuing.


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