By: Jonathan Kay
Here in the West, the killing of Osama Bin Laden was considered a triumph. In Pakistan, where the al-Qaeda leader lived out his final years, attitudes are very different: On Wednesday, a Pakistani court brought down a guilty verdict against the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA locate bin Laden in May, 2011. Having been convicted of treason, Shakil Afridi now faces a 33-year prison sentence.
Each story like this brings fresh evidence that Pakistan, a nominal Western ally in the war on terrorism, actually is doing more to enable the jihadis than fight them. We don’t yet have definitive evidence to suggest that the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment was actively housing and protecting bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. But that certainly would have been in keeping with long-standing Pakistani policies.
And those policies won’t change any time soon: With the Americans, Canadians and others having announced their exit date in Afghanistan, Pakistan has less incentive to co-operate in the war on terrorism than at any time since 9/11. In coming years, the better way to deal with Pakistan will be to acknowledge the reality that the country is nothing less than a full-blown state sponsor of terrorism.
This is not a new idea: It goes back almost 20 years. As former U.S. diplomat Peter Tomsen recently noted in an insightful essay published by the World Policy Institute, George H.W. Bush-era Secretary of State James Baker wrote a letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1993, warning him that Pakistan could soon be put on America’s list of terror-sponsoring nations. But the threat proved hollow.
At the time, Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, was actively supporting militant groups in Indian Kashmir. To this day, three of those groups — Harakat ul Mujahidin, Lashkar-I Taiba and Jaish-I Mohammad — are on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Add in the groups that the ISI assists on the Afghanistan front — the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and the Hekmatyar outfit — and it becomes plain that Pakistani spooks effectively are co-ordinating a horizontally diversified terrorist empire spanning three nations.
As Mr. Tomsen argues, the United States — and the West, more generally — shares some of the blame for the expansion of Pakistan’s malign influence. The U.S. diplomat served as a special envoy to elements of the Afghan resistance (most notably, Tajik commander Ahmed Shah Masood, who was killed by al-Qaeda two days before 9/11) during the early 1990s. In that capacity, he bore witness to America’s policy of reckless indifference to developments in the region.
“From 1993 to September 11, 2001 — in perhaps one of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history — the United States government outsourced America’s Afghan policy to Pakistan, which meant to the Pakistani military and the powerful ISI. American policy was, in practice, giving free rein to the fox in the chicken coup,” Mr. Tomsen wrote in the Journal of the World Policy Institute. “The unholy alliance of the ISI, al-Qaida, and Taliban radicals burrowed into Afghanistan. While bin Laden launched global terrorist attacks against the United States, Pakistan’s military and the ISI organized, armed, and supplied the annual military offensives besieging Masood’s northern enclave. American ignorance of Pakistan’s radical Islamist course in Afghanistan reinforced the isolation of the most successful Afghan commander fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
Pakistan’s motives in supporting terrorism and attacking its neighbours typically are described as a play for “strategic depth” against India. Mr. Tomsen argues that there are other goals as well — including the expansion of the military’s power within domestic Pakistani politics, and the creation of a unified Islamic power base in Central Asia.
Destabilizing Afghanistan through Taliban-led terrorism is consistent with each of these goals. And the ISI’s strategy for doing so, Mr. Tomsen notes, is a carbon copy of its playbook from 1994 to 1998, when it built up the Taliban the first time around.
For years, Western diplomats have been unable to speak freely about Pakistan, because we’ve depended on the country for logistical support in the Afghan mission. At the same time, the American campaign of drone strikes, which has decimated the senior ranks of Pakistani-based terrorists, has remained a low-profile affair, lest Pakistani sensitivities be offended.
Following the West’s phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, we will no longer have tens of thousands of soldiers being fed, housed, and air conditioned in the Afghan outback. No longer will the United States have to go through the cynical pantomime of “co-ordinating” border operations with the Pakistani military, an exercise that inevitably leads to the Taliban learning of America’s plans in advance.
It is a pity that the West will not be leaving Afghanistan in better shape. But having departed the country, the United States and its allies at least will be able to deal with Pakistan, the greater threat, for what it is: a country that is a haven for terrorists; and which punishes men, such as Shakil Afridi, who fight them.
— Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post, and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy: National Post