December 17, 2016
Taliban senior leaders continue to operate without restrictions inside Pakistan including the insurgent group’s most lethal arm, the Haqqani Network, the Pentagon said in a report released on December 16. The Pakistanis persist on allowing this absurd arrangement to the detriment of the people of Afghanistan and the chagrin of Washington, whose entreaties have, apparently, fallen on deaf ears in Islamabad.
“Afghan-oriented militant groups, including Taliban and Haqqani Network senior leadership retain freedom of action from safe havens inside Pakistani territory,” the congressionally-mandated assessment of the war in Afghanistan stated. “The United States continues to be clear with Pakistan about steps it should take to improve the security environment and deny safe havens to terrorist and extremist groups.”
The report also claimed that the US military has seen zero evidence of a sustained Pakistani effort to “disrupt active Haqqani Network threats.” And in this very same report, mind you, the Department of Defense is quite clear about the type of threat the Haqqanis pose:
“Of the groups involved in the Taliban-led insurgency, the Haqqani Network remains the greatest threat to US, coalition, and Afghan forces and continues to be a critical enabler of al-Qaeda.”
The first question is: Is any of this really shocking or have we become numb to the madness? One of the major factors as to why the war between the Afghan government and Taliban will never end is because Pakistan allows insurgent leaders to take sanctuary, top among them being the movement’s deadliest arm, the Haqqanis. I believe this is what psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance.
The White House, it bears mentioning, has fully understood this reality since 2009. And nothing has changed and now President Obama is headed for the exit doors. It is important to remember that the Pakistanis have on many occasions been explicit about the fact they see the Haqqani Network as an asset and insurance policy that will prove valuable in a post-NATO world.
In 2010, in fact, then-Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani tried to broker a power-sharing arrangement between Kabul and the Haqqanis. The Haqqani Network, in short, is a Pakistani bargaining chip amid the Great Game to see who will control Kabul once the United States loses its influence or its interest.
Put another way, consider that Obama has known for years that the war in Afghanistan is completely unwinnable given the Haqqani sanctuaries in Pakistan. Hence, Obama knew that putting thousands of American troops into harm’s way was really an exercise in futility – but he did it anyway out of political expediency. The Obama administration, in the meantime, has done little to resolve the “elephant in the room” other than nagging Islamabad occasionally or making token comments at press briefings.
And the Haqqanis probably are not going away any time soon, according to the Pentagon report. Sirajuddin Haqqani’s role as Taliban deputy has solidified Haqqani influence, expanded its area of operations inside Afghanistan, and has provided the movement with additional “operational and planning capabilities.”
Pakistani officials actually no longer seem to even try to hide their duplicity. Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told PTV during an interview on December 11 that Pakistan is indeed hosting the Haqqanis, but based on stringent “conditions.”
“We have also explicitly given the same message to the Taliban and Haqqanis that you must not indulge in any terrorist activity or violence in Afghanistan,” Chaudhry said. “And if you can’t mend your ways and live peacefully like millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, then you better leave the country because Pakistani soil cannot welcome you and the space would be squeezed on you.”
However, Chaudhry also explained, according to Voice of America, that Islamabad would not use military force against the Haqqanis for fear the militants might “turn their guns” on their benefactor and “bring Afghanistan’s war to Pakistan.” He also dared to urge President Ghani to prevent anti-Pakistan militants from “roaming freely” on his side of the border based on “mere assumptions” that Islamabad harbors militants who mean Afghanistan ill.
As if the entire situation was not outrageous enough, earlier this month US Congress passed a defense budget which dedicates $900 million to Pakistan for counterterrorism operations on Afghanistan’s border. To be fair, $400 million of the investment is contingent upon Pakistan taking noticeable steps to do something about the Haqqanis, perhaps hoping that straight bribery might do the trick.
But do expect Islamabad to take perfunctory actions to lend the appearance of cracking down on anti-Afghan militants in order to get paid. Yet, even if the Pakistanis completely ignore the Haqqanis they are guaranteed to receive $500 million for counterterrorism operations against only those militants with mal-intentions towards Islamabad.
As the old saying goes: You can’t make this stuff up.
Military theorists for decades have argued that insurgencies cannot be defeated if the local populace does not support the host government or if enemy combatants have access to cross-border sanctuaries. Which sadly suggests that everything is academic until Pakistan ends the madness. This will not happen, of course, until Pakistan fully concedes that the Great Game is unwinnable and continuing to play it is not worth the cost.