In the annals of global folly, I’d give high marks to the continuing refusal of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, to break decisively with the terrorist Haqqani network.
A devastating new portrait of the ISI’s madness was provided Thursday by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his farewell testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mullen said he had “credible intelligence” that a Sept. 11 bombing that wounded 70 U.S. and NATO troops and a Sept. 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were done “with ISI support.”
This is a bombshell, especially coming from Mullen, who has been the best American friend of ISI and the Pakistani military. When an intelligence agency is involved with (or condones) the bombing of another country’s embassy, that is perilously close to a covert act of war.
What does the ISI imagine lies ahead? More of its games with the Haqqanis, which fit the British description of fatuous actions that are “too clever by half”? More double- and triple-gaming of the sort into which it has entangled itself and the CIA for several decades? No, I don’t think so. When a Mullen goes before Congress and says our nominal ally is responsible for killing Americans and trying to take down our embassy, that’s a break from business as usual.
ISI officials tend to throw up their hands in a gesture of wounded innocence when the Haqqani network is mentioned. Of course we have contacts with them, they will say; that’s what intelligence services do. Sometimes they will go further and say they are willing to help contain the Haqqanis, but only as part of a broader deal in Afghanistan. Sorry, but the clock just ran out on those arguments.
The tragedy of what’s happening now is that the ISI and Pakistan were moving in the right direction just two years ago, when they summoned up their courage and attacked the Taliban in the Swat Valley and then assaulted the Mehsud tribal militants in South Waziristan.
There were signs then of the resolve and strategic clarity that might make Pakistan one nation at last, with the tribal areas under the writ of Islamabad, more than 60 years after the nation was founded.
But they blew it. Sad to say, especially for someone like me who likes Pakistan and admires many officials there, even in the ISI. But they blew it. Now they have to figure out a way to dig themselves out of the hole that they have created in their half-clever folly.
Addendum 7:40 p.m.: Where does this mess go next? Sources tell me that when the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, met this week with with an angry CIA leadership, he offered a new promise that the Pakistani spy agency and army will crack down on the Haqqanis. Really, truly.
Similar assurances have been given in the past, with no result. So this time, some U.S. officials are said to be asking for a real housekeeping at ISI, including a serious internal review of what has gone so wrong in its operations. That would be good from America’s standpoint — and even better from Pakistan’s.