Mullen on ISI and Haqqani: why now?

NOTE:  I pay for this service and get many posts each day.  I  have not linked to it because so much of it is behind a pay-wall.  I am permitted to re-post as long as I acknowledge Stratfor as the source.  Y’all have followed the Mullen-Panetta review of Pakistan to Congress, I am sure; what is new to me here is that Stratfor says we no longer require Pakistan for our effort in Afghanistan so it became a good time to finally say what we know.

In an interview published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his view that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate provided support for the  Haqqani network. And he continued to juxtapose Haqqani attacks on American troops and American targets with the ISI’s “strategic support” for the group.
The interview was released as Mullen’s final testimony before Congress last week continued to elicit reactions. It was during this testimony — not a setting in which casual comments usually slip out — that he explicitly connected the ISI to Haqqani. During Mullen’s tenure as America’s top military officer, he traveled to Pakistan more than two dozen times and maintained close relations with Islamabad’s senior military leadership. Despite attempts in Washington to moderate his testimony, and anger and denials from Pakistan, we can be sure that Mullen chose his words carefully — a point that Wednesday’s interview further underscores.
“The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has begun to change in a fundamental way.”
The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has begun to change in a fundamental way. The United States and its allies are leaving Afghanistan. The peak of military operations there — itself intended as an attempt to shape the circumstances for a withdrawal — has already passed. A new officer, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, has been put in charge of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan not to perpetuate the counterinsurgency-focused strategy of David Petraeus.
The move to an exit from Afghanistan is not immediate, but it is inexorable. Washington’s only long-term strategic interest in Central Asia is to deny it as sanctuary to transnational terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan and Washington is moving from a position of needing Pakistani territory to logistically facilitate a surge and ongoing military operations, to one where it requires Pakistan to ensure that Afghanistan will never again serve as a staging ground for attacks against American interests.
Mullen did not recently discover Pakistani connections with Haqqani, or the Taliban in general. They have always existed — Pakistan was instrumental in creating the Taliban and ensuring their ascendancy — and it was never in Islamabad’s interest to sever them. Those ties served as a fundamental means of ensuring Pakistani leverage in Afghanistan. What changed is what the United States needs from Pakistan. The United States’ willingness to overlook Pakistani actions against its interests, in exchange for the cooperation necessary for operational expediency, has ended.
Already, the United States has quietly moved its logistical burden onto the Northern Distribution Route — an astonishingly long and tedious alternative traversing Russia and Central Asia to Pakistan — so much so that only about a third of supplies and fuel continue to reach Afghanistan via the port of Karachi and Pakistani refineries. But as the total number of foreign troops continues to decline, excess stockpiles are burned through, austerity measures take effect and the tempo of combat operations declines, the point at which the war in Afghanistan can be sustained independent of Pakistan is fast approaching.
This is a remarkable inflection point. Washington’s logistical vulnerability and reliance on Islamabad has left combat operations in Afghanistan hostage to Pakistan, which has been a defining dynamic of the war. To sustain the large-scale combat operations, the United States had been forced to tolerate Pakistani support for hostile forces in Afghanistan. Mullen’s testimony last Thursday and the interview this Wednesday reflect a change in the rules.
Whether Pakistan is capable of adjusting course and satisfying new American demands — even if it wants to — is unclear. But with the American exit on the horizon and the twilight of logistical reliance on Pakistan at hand, the rules of the game have undergone perhaps their most fundamental change since the beginning of the war.

3 Responses

  1. I'm going to have to read this again but my first impression is why no mention of the money we give, or used to give (are we still?) Pakistan? Also, this change was inevitable but there seems to be an undercurrent of foreboding here that I'm not sure is explained all that well. And one more, isn't Pakistan still a little peeved about the way we took Bin Laden out and does that play into this in some way? Just my thoughts after the first read.


  2. Pakistan has a written agreement with us that we could capture OBL in Pakistan if we knew he was there. We never took their complaints seriously. Mullen has said that Pakistan views the Haqqani as useful against India and we view some factions within Pakistan as useful. He has said he wants all to be clear that we are not going to tolerate their getting in our way by jeopardizing our troops or supplies and that the relationship will be different going forward. I predict far less money will flow to Pakistan's military from us than has in the past. That seems to be the point of the Mullen Show. I want to point out that Pakistan has been lobbying key Congresspersons for years and that both Mullen and the SecDef are not amused.


  3. Thanks for the clarification Mark. I wondered especially about the money. Also, I know we weren't speaking of Syria but I thought this was interesting from David Dayen. There's so much going on in the Middle East it's almost impossible to keep up with.The movie of the life of US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is going to be great. I just hope it ends well. Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have thrown tomatoes and eggs at US ambassador Robert Ford as he met an opposition figure in Damascus. Veteran politician Hassan Abdul Azim said about 100 protesters tried to get into his office as Mr Ford arrived and then surrounded it, trapping them both. US officials said the “mob was violent” and seriously damaged embassy vehicles, but that Mr Ford was unharmed.Ford has been a real hero in all of this. He has set foot in some of the most besieged cities in the country, spoken out for freedom of assembly and civil rights, and as you see here, risked personal safety in service of these principles. At first he was decried by neocons and Republicans for, well, being a Barack Obama appointee. Conservatives believed that simply having an ambassador in Syria was a gift to the Assad government, and they blocked Ford’s appointment. But Ford has now changed the minds of even the most ardent conservatives. “I really changed my mind on this,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He has done some things that are just really impressive. He’s gone to places where the protesters are. He’s been roughed up a few times. I had the impression that he wouldn’t be quite strong enough, and I’ve been proven wrong.”Ford’s recess appointment expires at the end of the year, and some ardent conservatives still may block him. They would be silencing the most important voice on the side of the protest movement and against the repression of the Assad regime. In the meantime, Ford is going about his dangerous work, and while the regime-supporting mob didn’t physically harm him this time, next time Ford may not be so lucky.The UN Security Council votes today on a resolution calling for an end to violence in Syria.


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