Haqqani factor complicates troubled US-Pakistan relations
The current US administration’s denial of foreign aid to Pakistan has patrimony with the presidency of Barack Obama, when Jalaluddin Haqqani’s network remained untouched by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 2011 and 2016.
Both times the Obama administration expected Pakistan’s security establishment to crack down on domestic jihadist networks that operated on both sides of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Northern Waziristan home of the Haqqani Network was firmly entrenched within Pakistan’s own security apparatus while ensconced within regions that have no formal political governing structures. None of Obama’s policy admonitions succeeded.
Pakistan’s ISI pushed the Haqqani Network from the northern capital of Waziristan, Miran Shah, further toward a lightly monitored frontier. Even today, ISI in collaboration with the Pakistan’ Army remains reluctant to move openly against the network.
Harsh domestic violence in the form of open terror is a real possibility, as the US administration reluctantly admits. Pakistan has lost more than 30,000 soldiers and civilians to public acts of terrorism since 2003. Openly serving US policy has not gained Pakistan anything of strategic value.
While Pakistan openly permits the US Central Command to conduct operations in Waziristan selecting and eliminating terrorists, an opening chasm remains that hinders the sine qua non of war aims, namely effective public diplomacy.
Islamabad believes that the Americans will eventually quit Afghanistan, and that Pakistan needs the Haqqani Network to serve its regional rivalry with India. Having a useful auxiliary to supplant the army’s geopolitical ambitions has always been a determining calculus for Pakistan. It remains so today.
Ironically, witnessing the Americans openly embrace India has hardened Pakistani support for Haqqani while openly poisoning US-Pakistani relations
Ironically, witnessing the Americans openly embrace India has hardened Pakistani support for Haqqani while openly poisoning US-Pakistani relations. Pakistan’s generals remain strongly focused on their regional ambitions to the detriment of a badly needed reset of bilateral relations.
What the Americans know isn’t useful regarding Pakistan; it is what they don’t know that can secure US interests. Pakistan’s security establishment has an exceedingly high pain threshold, matched only by widely held anti-American public sentiment that easily fortifies Islamabad’s own domestic interests.
If US regional aims were to have Islamabad openly recalculate the components of its bilateral relations with Washington, it failed, for Pakistan continues to service jihadist leadership publicly, subjugating US interests to Pakistani domestic imperatives.
How does this end?
The current trajectory remains unsustainable, but Pakistan’s long-term interests aren’t secured by blackballing US security needs. This is evidenced in Islamabad’s willingness to permit US drones to operate within Pakistan, even as they kill high-valued targets allied to Haqqani.
Islamabad has openly sought to envelop jihadist networks in its domestic political establishment; seeking to ameliorate an incessant need to identify and control a metastasizing threat, Pakistan’s security establishment seeks to remove partial opacity in its social or governing relations with Islamists. Time will tell if this works.
Politically, Pakistan’s security threats are growing beyond state capacity to handle them. Islamabad worries about its fragile relations with China, while its unreformed political economy hinges on International Monetary Fund bailouts sucking vital capital away from army leadership while domestic threats grow.
Badly needed multilateral lending and international finance remain subject to Pakistani domestic reform. Beijing’s investments are crucial for the Pakistan Muslim League’s electoral pledge to end crippling electrical shortages.
In reality, the ruling Punjabis seek permanent subsidies from China instead of openly reforming major Pakistani industries. Just as India’s senate, the Rajya Sabha, remains feudal and oligarchic, this ethos characterizes the ruling Punjabi class throughout Pakistan and its subsequent need to derail all efforts toward liberalization.
For Pakistan to progress, it must openly confront and replace feudalism with Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secular vision of an open, liberal, secular Muslim federalism.
The permanent fracturing of US-Pakistani relations isn’t foreordained, but it is getting late, while Pakistan suffers from domestic and international envelopment from transnational Islamism.
Jinnah’s vision is all that’s left. Pakistan Zindabad.