Pak­istan’s dou­ble game

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Adm. Michael Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vis­ited Pak­istan last week in an ef­fort to per­suade Is­lam­abad to help rather than hin­der the war against ji­hadist ter­ror.

Pak­istan’s sta­tus as a sanc­tu­ary for Tal­iban and al Qaeda has taken on new ur­gency for the U.S. mil­i­tary due to a dra­matic up­surge in vi­o­lence against U.S. and NATO troops in neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan. The sit­u­a­tion came to a head Sept. 3, when the U.S. mil­i­tary con­ducted its first ground as­sault into Pak­istan’s tribal re­gion in pur­suit of rad­i­cal Is­lamists, an­ger­ing the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary.

The raid drew threats to kill any U.S. sol­dier caught in the course of an “unau­tho­rized” in­cur­sion into Pak­istan. A crit­i­cal goal of Adm. Mullen’s mis­sion is reach­ing an un­der­stand­ing about what action the U.S. mil­i­tary will be per­mit­ted to take against Pak­istan-based ter­ror­ists whose goal is to cross the bor­der into Afghanistan and kill as many Amer­i­can sol­diers (along with their NATO and Afghan al­lies) as pos­si­ble. Pak­istani of­fi­cials say pri­vately that they are will­ing to ac­cept U.S. strikes uti­liz­ing un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles that have been co­or­di­nated with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary. Pak­istan ob­jects to the Sept. 3 op­er­a­tion, us­ing ground troops and he­li­copters, be­cause it was not co­or­di­nated with its gov­ern­ment.

But Wash­ing­ton has good rea­son to be wary of the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary, and it’s no se­cret what the prob­lem is: The Pak­istani army has been heav­ily in­fil­trated by Tal­iban and al Qaeda sym­pa­thiz­ers, and the same is true of Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity ser­vice, the In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI). In im­por­tant re­spects, the cur­rent dif­fi­cul­ties be­tween the United States and Pak­istan are but the lat­est chap­ter of a long-run- ning dis­pute be­tween the two na­tions over Pak­istan’s re­la­tion­ships with al Qaeda and other rad­i­cal Is­lamist forces in the re­gion. Dur­ing the 1990s, Pak­istani gov­ern­ments headed by the late Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto and her suc­ces­sor as prime min­is­ter, Nawaz Sharif, and then Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf, went out of their way to pla­cate the Tal­iban regime in neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan while the ISI was known to main­tain good re­la­tions with al Qaeda. This sit­u­a­tion changed to some de­gree af­ter Septem­ber 11, when Gen. Mushar­raf be­gan in essence play­ing a dou­ble game (in ex­change for $10 bil­lion in as­sis­tance from the U.S. tax­payer): as­sist­ing U.S. forces in cap­tur­ing and killing al Qaeda op­er­a­tives part of the time, while pro­vid­ing the ter­ror­ists with sanc­tu­ary, bases and pro­tec­tion the other part of the time.

This ap­proach may have seemed bear­able to U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers sev­eral years ago, when the Tal­iban ap­peared to have been routed in neigh­bor­ing Afghanistan.

That sit­u­a­tion no longer ex­ists, and Pak­istan’s role in shel­ter­ing ji­hadists has be­come less and less tol­er­a­ble. Pak­istan’s con­tin­ued re­fusal to take action against ter­ror­ists op­er­at­ing on its soil may be on the verge of open­ing a dark new chap­ter in re­la­tions with the United States.

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