April 12, 2011

April 12, 2011 | Commentary on Pakistan

Pakistan Peeved

Pakistani intelligence officials reportedly swept into CIA headquarters this week with a list of grievances about agency operations in the South Asian state -- even threatening to limit prized Predator drone strikes on terrorists in troubled tribal areas.

Let's hope the CIA responded by pulling out a long list of our concerns about Pakistan.

OK, you can understand that the shooting incident involving the CIA contractor this winter caused Pakistan's government a lot of heartburn domestically -- and complaining directly to the folks at Langley about it has its benefits back home.

And drone attacks -- which the Obama administration has used extensively to disrupt al Qaeda and Taliban operations -- have from time to time resulted in civilian casualties and other collateral damage, getting Pakistani emotional and nationalist hackles up.

Plus, Islamabad is worried that there may be a lot more US spooks running around the country, looking at things beyond al Qaeda and the Taliban, such as the disposition of Pakistan's (growing) nuclear arsenal.

Not to mention that Pakistan is always nervous about its rival India and may be a bit troubled by America's growing ties with the Asian giant.

Impoverished Islamabad also wants to make sure that Washington is reminded -- regularly and perhaps not so gently -- of its aid needs based on its supporting role in Afghanistan, where America's been battling for nearly 10 years now.

But, since we're laying it all on the table, we've got our share of gripes with Pakistan, too.

For instance, the White House told Congress this month that, despite unprecedented efforts, it's very worried about the security situation: "There remains no clear path to defeating the [Afghan] insurgency in Pakistan."

That Islamabad is unable or unwilling to press Pakistan-based al Qaeda (including Osama bin Laden) and Taliban more is troubling, considering its own brewing internal-security problems and the billions in aid the US has sent over the years.

The availability of an al Qaeda-Taliban safe haven in Pakistan will continue to undermine the fragile progress brave coalition forces have made in fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan.

There are also concerns about continuing contact between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate and insurgent groups that have shed blood in Afghanistan -- including the Afghan Taliban, (possibly) al Qaeda, the Jalaluddin Haqqani network and the forces under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

It's also widely believed that Pakistani authorities know the location of Taliban leader Mullah Omar -- and could apprehend him if they wanted to.

Of course, the ISI is probably best known for anti-India terror operations, including alleged involvement in the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul and the Mumbai attacks, both in 2008.

America is clearly -- and rightly -- nervous that Pakistan is involved in a dangerous, high-stakes game that won't bode well for our counterterror/counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan -- or beyond.

Yet, though Islamabad may be hedging, US failure in Afghanistan wouldn't benefit Pakistan -- which would then have to struggle for influence with rising power players India and Iran, requiring resources it can better put to use at home.

Islamabad may believe it can ride the Islamist-extremist tiger to its benefit in both Pakistan and Afghanistan -- but that flesh-eater will assuredly turn on its former master.

Indeed, an ominous trend is already growing: Terror attacks claimed nearly 3,000 lives in Pakistan in 2010 alone.

The last thing anyone needs is a strategic country like Pakistan run by extremists and armed with nuclear weapons. In the final analysis, whether or not either side likes it, the United States and Pakistan are in this fight together. Tactics like trying to use highly successful US drone operations as a bargaining chip isn't helpful to either one of us.

While no doubt difficult considering the stressed state of affairs, convincing Islamabad of our shared interests and developing a common vision for battling terror and winning in Afghanistan is something Washington better do -- and quickly.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The New York Post