Mullen Pakistan Critique Shows US AF/PAK Policy Unraveling
Gareth Porter: Admiral Mullen's comments on Pakistan show exit strategy from Afghanistan failing - September 29, 2011
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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. On September 22, Admiral Mike Mullen testified in front of Congress and made some very direct accusations against the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, stating they had had a direct involvement in targeting Americans in Afghanistan. Here's a little bit of what he had to say.~~~MICHAEL MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, US JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: A second but no less worrisome challenge we face is the impunity with which certain extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. The Haqqani Network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's internal services intelligence agency. With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy. We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations. In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence.~~~JAY: Now joining us to talk about what we're told is a further unraveling of American-Pakistani military relations is Gareth Porter. He's an investigative journalist based in Washington. Thanks for joining us again, Gareth.GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Hello, Paul.JAY: So, first of all, tell us a little bit more of what Mullen had to say and what you think is the significance of it.PORTER: Well, Mullen's testimony, along with Leon Panetta, defense secretary, was part of a broader strategy that the Obama administration had clearly adopted in the wake of the spectacular Taliban Haqqani Network attacks in Kabul the week before, in which they had actually kept US-NATO forces on the top of the headquarters, of US-NATO headquarters there in Kabul, at bay for several hours, and also really sort of--I wouldn't say scared, but bothered the US Embassy, let them feel that they were targets as well. And this was an embarrassment for the Obama administration, because it showed that the Taliban were not really at bay, that they were able to strike deep into the heart of the most secure parts of the country, and indeed the capital city itself. So what they did was to unleash Mullen and Panetta, and particularly Mullen, to accuse the ISI, the intelligence agency of Pakistan, of not just having close relations with the Haqqani Network in their carrying out of operations in Afghanistan, but actually saying that the Haqqani Network was essentially the agent--I think he said a virtual arm--of the ISI, and indeed he was suggesting that there was evidence that, as you said, the ISI was actually involved, was complicit in the targeting of US troops and US targets in Kabul. So what they were doing here was really upping the ante in trying to pressure the Pakistani military and government to do something about the Haqqani Network.JAY: Part of what the Americans are saying is they've actually connected cell phones between Haqqani Network and ISI and that they can prove through these cell phone connections this relationship exists.PORTER: Well, of course, I'm sure that's true that they're relying on some, really, interception of other electronic communications between the two, but, I mean, let's face it, there's nothing new about that connection at all. I mean, they have been collecting, they've been intercepting messages between the ISI and the Haqqani Network for years, between the Pakistani military and the Haqqani Network for years. This is not new. It's--the only new element of this picture is that the Haqqani Network has been so much more effective in 2011 militarily in Afghanistan than it ever was before. The New York Times reported a couple of days ago that the number of attacks by the Haqqani Network in 2011 so far is five times what it was a year ago during the same period, and the number of IEDs apparently accountable to the Haqqani Network is 20 percent higher than it was a year ago. So, alongside these really high-profile attacks which were so embarrassing to the Obama administration, what we have here is a very grim picture, in which the Haqqani Network--from their point of view a very grim picture, in which the Haqqani Network is playing the key roles.JAY: Right. The--after the bin Laden killing, the Americans were pretty explicit that they thought the ISI had been involved in protecting him, at least some part of the ISI. After the killing of the journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was also a contributor to The Real News Network, Mullen himself came out and said that he thought the ISI had been involved in killing Saleem. And now you have him coming out again directly accusing the ISI. One of the things that's being speculated upon [snip] that all of this is to prepare conditions for more direct US attacks within Pakistan without Pakistani agreement, that they're going to try to attack Haqqani Network in Pakistan, perhaps, I guess, through more drone attacks, or maybe even more. What do you make of that?PORTER: Well, I think that that's a logical conclusion to come to. But in this case, I'm unconvinced that the Obama administration is not--is nowhere near a decision to take unilateral military action, certainly not on the ground in Pakistan. And the reason is that--the reason I think that is that the people I've talked to in the last couple of days here in Washington who are following, you know, the policy discussions on Afghanistan and Pakistan are telling me that what was really happening here is that the Obama administration has felt, you know, that politically they had no choice but to accuse Pakistan of being involved in these attacks in Kabul and the attack on a US-NATO base that wounded 77 American troops. The fact is that unless they did turn up the heat on Pakistan, the Pakistani military, the ISI over this issue, then obviously they could be reasonably afraid that they would be questioned in terms of the US policy itself. That is, you know, what sort of policy is this where we are having our own troops being attacked by the Haqqani Network so easily? So I think that this is a defensive mechanism, that what we've been seeing in recent weeks, which has been then escalated over the last ten days or so, is in fact a defense mechanism by the Obama administration, the political fear of being attacked by the Republicans, in particular, over the Afghanistan policy being a failure, and feeling that they could better protect themselves if they started to cast blame on the Pakistanis. I think that's what's really going on here.JAY: Now, it's not like the ISI is so popular in Pakistan, and neither is the Haqqani Network or al-Qaeda. I mean, if I understand it correctly, most Pakistani public opinion, although they're very much against this close alliance with the United States, they're also very much against the ISI and its relationship with what--you know, Taliban, al-Qaeda type forces. Is part of this US strategy to try to create some splits within the Pakistani elite or society or military about all of this?PORTER: Well, I think that they may have some hope that, you know, accusing ISI of all these things would add to the suspicion of ISI in some parts of Pakistani society. But, look, you know, the fact is that compared with the antagonism toward the ISI in Pakistan, the antagonism toward the United States is so much greater that that's really not a very--you know, that's not a strategy that has any chance of success. And indeed, you know, what I'm hearing from people who know the policy--policymakers' thinking here in Washington is that the Obama administration really has no hope whatsoever of actually moving the Pakistani military and the ISI in a direction, a different direction, in terms of their policy of support for the Haqqani Network. They really have conceded, as of last December, officially they conceded that there was little possibility that even if the United States stepped up pressure publicly on Pakistan to do something about the Haqqani Network--and what they really want, of course, is for the Pakistani military to attack in large-scale fashion in North Waziristan the bases of the Haqqani Network there. And they know that there's just no chance that that is going to happen. And so there's a high degree of sort of theatricality about this current spate of accusations about the ISI's relationship with the Haqqani Network.JAY: One of the whole conditions for the Americans getting out--and President Obama keeps talking about ending the war when he makes his speeches on the economy--they've already factored in lower costs on the Afghan and Iraq War, because they say they're getting out. But if one of the primary conditions for getting out was that Pakistan was going to step up its attacks in North Waziristan and they're not going to, where does that leave the Americans in terms of getting out?PORTER: Well, I think it leaves them without any hope of possibly succeeding in the strategy that they had identified a year ago, a year and a half ago, and again have put forward most--more recent months, of transferring responsibility for the war over the next three years or so to the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government. I don't think that there's anybody, really, in the US military, with possibly a few exceptions at higher levels, who really believe that that's going to happen. And a large part of the reason is that the insurgents have 15,000 to 20,000 Pashtun fighters from the Haqqani Network who are going back and forth across the border and who are very, very effective guerrilla fighters who have really made a huge difference in the eastern region of Afghanistan. And that's the area where the United States is most vulnerable, US strategy is most vulnerable to the success of the Taliban and Haqqani Network guerrillas.JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Gareth.PORTER: Thank you, Paul.JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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