The accusation by the United States that the Haqqani network is “a veritable arm” of the Inter-Services Intelligence seems to have hardly embarrassed Pakistan. Instead, following the pattern of defiance that it has shown since Osama bin Laden's killing, the Pakistan Army has made clear it will not subordinate its strategic interests to those of the U.S. But this new crisis in a rocky marriage may yet pass. The U.S. blames the Haqqani network, a faction of militants allied to the Afghan Taliban and based in the North Waziristan frontier region of Pakistan, for the recent attacks in Kabul. This includes the killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the attack on the U.S. Embassy some days before that. The July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul was also traced to the Haqqani network. Islamabad is correct in saying it was the CIA that nurtured Jalaluddin Haqqani — the leader from whom the group takes its name — during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. But that is half the story. The Pakistan military's embrace of the CIA-Saudi-funded jihadists for its own goals in Afghanistan and against India is of no less relevance to the unending tragedy in the region. As the Pakistan security establishment prepares for the so-called end game in Afghanistan, it sees the Haqqani group as its best insurance policy against being sidelined — and importantly, against the rise of Indian influence over its western neighbour. The generals in Rawalpindi are confident that the superpower has no choice but to remain dependent on Pakistan to ensure a semblance of peace in Afghanistan and, by extension, in the whole region.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar's articulation of the message that the U.S. risks losing an ally with its allegations shows that even if the civilian dispensation is at variance with the security establishment, its political space is limited. Rightfully, the All Parties' Conference called by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani should question the army's continuing links with militants and the internal risk this poses. But the track record of such initiatives, undertaken each time the Pakistan Army finds itself in hot water, shows that they end up endorsing the security establishment and its misguided strategies. Pakistan's ability to stand up to a superpower patron would have been admirable were its agenda clean. All this might be a source of anxiety to India, which depends to an extent on Pakistan's influential allies to force it to rein in groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Even so, New Delhi must work to discourage any precipitate action by Washington against Pakistan that may put the entire region at risk.