Pakistani intelligence maintained close connections to the network, now operationally led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the founder’s son, as a hedge against the future in Afghanistan.
Two years ago, President Obama, in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, warned that Pakistan’s intelligence ties to extremist groups, including the Haqqanis, could “not continue.” At the time, Obama promised an expanded strategic relationship with Pakistan in exchange for action.
Since then, U.S. military and civilian aid to Pakistan has increased significantly, and the administration has repeatedly described Pakistan as a crucial partner in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats have tried to foster working relationships between the often-estranged Afghan and Pakistani governments, as well as between Pakistan and India, its historical adversary.
Intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation between the two governments has ebbed and flowed over that period, reaching a low point this year with several events, including the shooting death of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in January and the unilateral U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his suburban Pakistani hideout in May.
Several months of open estrangement were followed by a slow climb back to cooperation — although not against the Haqqanis — by late August. CIA officials noted some improvement in the intelligence relationship, although Pakistan has continued to refuse entreaties for long-term, multiple-entry CIA visas. Even as they have traded public barbs, U.S. and Pakistani military officials reached a tentative agreement this week to return at least 100 of about 200 U.S. military trainers whom Pakistan expelled earlier in the year.
But recent attacks attributed to the Haqqani network in eastern Afghanistan, culminating in the embassy assault last week, appear to have abruptly changed attitudes within the senior levels of the administration.
On Saturday, in a message approved at senior levels in Washington, Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, told a radio interviewer in Islamabad that the United States had evidence “linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government.”
Although U.S. officials said they are continuing to look for a way forward with Pakistan, at least two factors are likely to narrow the administration’s options. As the conflict continues, Pakistan has fewer friends in Congress, where budget-cutting zeal increasingly coincides with pressure to stop funding assistance to Pakistan.
At the same time, the administration has grown increasingly determined to ease its way out of the Afghanistan conflict, and has diminishing patience for what it views as Pakistani impediments.
“What’s different is that we have begun a transition” in Afghanistan, one administration official said. “We’ve got a credible program to build an effective Afghan security force, and transition is happening, whether people like it or not.”
“For those who are wedded to the past — past relationships, past support structures — and for those who would destabilize Afghanistan,” the official said, “they’ve got to take account of the fact that things are different.”