On September 22, 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his last official appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In his speech, he bluntly criticized Pakistan, telling the committee that “extremist organizations serving as proxies for the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as U.S. soldiers.” The Haqqani network, he said, “is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency [ISI].” In 2011 alone, Mullen continued, the network had been responsible for a June attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, a September truck-bomb attack in Wardak province that wounded seventy-seven U.S. soldiers, and a September attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
These observations did not, however, lead Mullen to the obvious conclusion: Pakistan should be treated as a hostile power. And within days, military officials began walking back his remarks, claiming that Mullen had meant to say only that Islamabad gives broad support to the Haqqani network, not that it gives specific direction. Meanwhile, unnamed U.S. government officials asserted that he had overstated the case. Mullen’s testimony, for all the attention it received, did not signify a new U.S. strategy toward Pakistan.
Yet such a shift is badly needed. For decades, the United States has sought to buy Pakistani cooperation with aid: $20 billion worth since 9/11 alone. This money has been matched with plenty of praise from U.S. leaders, who have also spent an outsized amount of face time with their Pakistani counterparts. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has made four trips to Pakistan, compared with two to India and three to Japan. Mullen made more than twenty visits to Pakistan.