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In the ninth circle of hell

On Sunday, the 25th September, Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, summoned his core commanders for a special meeting, allegedly to discuss the security situation. This is an unusual move as meetings of core commanders are typically scheduled with a prescribed agenda. Pakistan is understandably concerned that in the wake of Admiral Mike Mullen’s comments, America may well intensify drone attacks on Pakistani soil or even worse, send in ground troops.

Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Armed Forces, in a speech to the Carnegie Endowment for Internal Peace, revealed that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency had strong ties with the Haqqani militant organisation and effectively supported terror attacks on American targets in Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen’s comments are the most recent indicator of Washington’s toughening stance against Pakistan. Previously, similar sentiments were echoed by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, and Cameron Munter, the American Ambassador to Islamabad.

The slide in US Pakistan relations actually began a few years ago when the Americans realised that Islamabad was in fact playing a double game. On the one hand, its troops flushed out certain militant organisations hostile to American interests, provided logistical support for American troops and diplomatically echoed support for America’s war against terror. However, on the other hand, its military establishment in general but more specifically, the Intelligence agencies, continued to nurture several terrorist organisations. The Haqqani network, the most important amongst these, is considered necessary to secure Islamabad’s interest in Afghanistan when the Americans eventually withdraw. However, both Washington and Islamabad maintained a diplomatic fa├žade and things chugged along.

However, the penny dropped a few months ago when US Special Forces raided a compound occupied by Osama bin Laden, a few hundred metres away from Pakistan’s elite military academy, in the wealthy suburb of Abbottabad. The Americans believed that their top fugitive was a guest of the Pakistani army and was provided harbour in their safe house. Several Congressmen threatened to introduce legislation to cut off military aid and sever ties completely with Islamabad. Since then, the relations between the two countries have persistently slipped and are currently at a critical juncture. Things can go either way. The American demand for disbanding the Haqqani militant organisation seems unacceptable to Islamabad, although officially it claims it has no relations whatsoever. Odd, it seems, that diplomatic ties between two allies currently boils down to one simple matter.

The Haqqani network originated in Afghanistan and is closely allied with the Taliban. Initially it received funding from previous US administrations during the Afghan war against Soviet occupation. Maulvi Haqqani rose to prominence, was recognised as a senior military leader, and even visited the White House during the Reagan Presidency. Today, the Haqqani network is well funded by wealthy Arab private donors and the Pakistani Government. In fact, a senior Afghani journalist once reported that President Hamid Karzai had invited Haqqani to serve as Prime Minister in his Government to bring “moderate elements of the Taliban” into the Government. Apparently, the terrorist refused. The organisation carries out activities in Afghanistan and uses Northern Waziristan as its base. Unlike other militant outfits, the Haqqani network has never engaged in attacks within the Pakistani state.

Within the Pakistani establishment, there is a line of thought that enough is enough and that Pakistan should take a firm stand against Washington and refuse to be “bullied”. They believe that Pakistan has other friends, namely China and Saudi Arabia who would substitute Washington for financial support and military hardware. Such a move would be a terrible folly. Pakistan needs the United States to maintain political and economic stability and therefore, in its self interest. Moreover, Washington’s influence over Islamabad is imperative to peace in South Asia. Without American influence, Pakistan runs the risk of morphing into a rogue state.

I believe that eventually voices of moderation, both within the military and political establishments will prevail. It is unlikely that the Haqqani network will be eliminated but in the weeks ahead Pakistan may make cosmetic efforts to comply with America’s demands. Relations between the two countries, for long characterised by the love-hate phenomenon, should at least return to stability – if not familiar friendship. Whilst not ideal for Pakistan, this will ensure harmony in the sub continent. The longer term trend though is clear – betrayal and treachery are becoming the insignia of the Pakistani State, as they are of the Ninth Circle of Hell.

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