Advancing a Free Society

Our Friends, the Pakistanis

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

“They’re living a lie,” said Mike McConnell, then director of National Intelligence, to president-elect Barack Obama about Pakistan and its intelligence services. This was in November 2008, two days after the presidential election. The Pakistanis hunted with the hounds and ran with the fox, Mr. Obama was told. They had an “office of hedging your bets,” Mike McConnell said of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (the ISI). Our Pakistani “allies” took America’s treasure, some $18 billion since 9/11, but they were playing a double game. They were sure that America was on its way out of Afghanistan, and they were keen to prepare for the day America pulls up stakes and leaves the region to its feuds and its mayhem.

This we learn from Bob Woodward’s “first draft” of the history of Barack Obama’s presidency, Obama’s Wars. But we didn’t really need the Woodward chronicle, the ways of America’s tangled relations with Pakistan have been known for some time now. Last summer, it was the massive dump of the Wikileak documents, a war archive of American memoranda and documents, 92,000 reports in all, that chronicled the American war in Afghanistan, from January 2004 through December 2009. The role of Pakistan in the Afghan struggle was the centerpiece of that big trove. Pakistan, our presumed ally, the archive revealed, maintained a deep and steady relationship with America’s determined enemies – the Haqqani network, the notorious purveyor of terror Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura. Pakistan fought the Taliban on its turf – when they were a threat to the state and to the prerogatives of the Pakistani army – but indulged the Afghan Taliban, granted them sanctuaries, provided them with the means of survival.

For the next three days, Washington will be the site for a Pakistani-American strategic dialogue. The Pakistanis will press their case for more substantial aid still. They will bring to the table their age-old lament that the U.S. has not provided a balance to the inequality of power between Pakistan and India. They will be keen to remind their American benefactors that the deal that the Bush administration signed with India over civilian nuclear technology has upset the nuclear balance, and that Pakistan is under no obligation to end the production of new nuclear fuel. They will fight this war against terror, the Pakistanis will argue, but they will do so by their own lights and schedule, that they will carry the fight to the tribal agency of North Waziristan – a stronghold of the Taliban with a heavy dosage of Arab and Uzbek fighters from the ranks of Al Qaeda – when the time is right, and the resources are in place.

The Obama administration had already signaled that we shall begin our withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. True enough, the Pakistanis may not be the most resolute of allies. But we should not be surprised if others hedge their bets when they hear our uncertain trumpet, when we tell them that we are marking time in their midst, and that our military effort in the Afghan war is a prelude for an imminent withdrawal.