Cables detail Pakistan Army's support to militants

"No amount of money" will change the policy, warned a U.S. ambassador

Pakistan's army is covertly sponsoring four major militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban and Mumbai attackers Lashkar-e-Taiba, and "no amount of money" will change the policy, the U.S. ambassador warned in a frank critique revealed by the state department cables.

Although Pakistan had received more than $16 billion in American aid since 2001, "there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance... as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups", Anne Patterson wrote in a secret review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy in September 2009.

The assessment highlights a stark contradiction — that one of Washington's key allies is quietly propping up its enemies — and is an admission of the limits of U.S. power in a country that still views India, not the Taliban, as its principal threat.

With Washington fearful of deploying troops to fight al-Qaeda in Pakistan, money has been its main weapon since 2001. It has given the army $9 billion to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the tribal belt; on October 22, the White House announced an extra $2 billion over the next five years.

Pakistan has paid a heavy price, losing more than 2,500 soldiers and many more civilians. Its generals insist they have cut erstwhile ties with the Taliban and other militant groups. But secret cables show US diplomats and spies believe the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency continue quietly to back selected militant groups.

Four are named: the Afghan Taliban, its allied Haqqani and Hekmatyar networks on the western Afghan frontier, and Lashkar-e-Taiba on the eastern border with India. Some ISI officials "continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organisations, in particular the Taliban, LeT and other extremist organisations," Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, wrote in December 2009.

A senior ISI official said: "These are assertions without evidence and nothing more than allegations or points of view, as such do not merit a response." The main concern, he said, was "how such sensitive information could find its way to a media outlet, and continues to do so".

But Dr Peter Lavoy, a senior intelligence official, told a meeting of NATO allies in November 2008 that the ISI allowed the Taliban's Quetta Shura leadership council to "operate unfettered" in Balochistan, while it provided the Waziristan-based Haqqani network with "intelligence and financial support to conduct attacks in Afghanistan against Afghan government, Isaf and Indian targets ... Pakistan continues to define India as its number one threat and insists that India plays an overactive role in Afghanistan."

Pak against closer Indo-Afghan ties

The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, had been "utterly frank" about the consequences of a pro-India government coming to power in Kabul, noted a 2009 briefing before his visit to Washington. "The Pakistani establishment will dramatically increase support for Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which they see as... an important counterweight."

Alarmed by the links with Haqqani, whose fighters kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, and fearful that policy towards Lashkar-e-Taiba could trigger nuclear war with India, U.S. officials have urged Gen. Kayani to change course.

"The biggest single message Kayani should hear in Washington is that this support must end," said one dispatch.

As ISI chief from 2004-07 Gen. Kayani presided over the spy agency as the Taliban surged in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba prepared the Mumbai attacks. U.S. officials consider it a sensitive point. "Kayani ... does not want a reckoning with the past," they said before last year's U.S. visit. "We should preface that conversation with an agreement to open a new page in relations. What is in the past is behind us."

U.S. allegations of collusion cast fresh doubt on the credibility of the former president Pervez Musharraf, who chafed angrily against suggestions of a "double game". "We are not a banana republic and the ISI is not a rogue agency," he told a congressional delegation led by a senior Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, in January 2007.

Yet there are also hints that ISI policy towards militant groups is complex and changing. In a March 2009 briefing to the FBI director, Robert Mueller, the embassy noted that the ISI chief, General Shuja Pasha,

"continues to profess a determination to end ISI's overt and tacit support for proxy forces". Speaking to the Guardian this year a senior ISI official acknowledged "historical links" with the Haqqanis but insisted the spy

agency was not in a position to dictate action terms. Last spring Kayani and Pasha flew to Kabul offering to broker peace with the Haqqanis.

The cables betray much American frustration and anger at alleged Pakistani duplicity, but there is also questioning of America's own covert policies. "Unilateral targeting" of al-Qaeda operatives in the tribal belt

- a euphemism for CIA-directed drone strikes - had killed 10 of the 20 top al-Qaeda leaders, Patterson noted last year. But the drones could not entirely eliminate the al-Qaeda leadership and ran the greater risk of

"destabilising the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis without finally achieving the goal".

Kashmir and Afghanistan

While American efforts are fixated on using money to wean Pakistan away from militants, there is little fresh thinking. One exception is last year's policy review by Ms. Patterson, a well-regarded diplomat who left Islamabad earlier this year.

Pakistani paranoia was fed by insecurity towards India and America, she said. The only way to end support for the Taliban - and ultimately root out the group - was to "change the Pakistan government's own perception of its security requirements".

Resolving the 63-year-old Kashmir conflict "would dramatically improve the situation", she said, adding: "We need to reassess Indian involvement in Afghanistan and our own policies towards India, including the growing military relationship through sizeable conventional arms sales, as all of this feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir-focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about US intentions."

Such a suggestion is politically highly sensitive. Delhi has fiercely resisted any attempt to link Afghanistan and Kashmir. Indian officials portray an ideological, power-hungry Pakistani army as the problem. Most of

Pakistan's woes "can be traced to the capacity and intentions of Pakistan's military", the Indian foreign secretary, Shivshankar Menon, told U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in February 2009. Mr. Holbrooke has pointedly avoided mentioning Kashmir.

Politicians in Washington are reluctant to antagonise India, an emerging global power.

Ms. Patterson's logic is shared by other western diplomats. Last year the Spanish ambassador to Kabul, Jose Turpin Molina, told 236333 his Pakistani counterpart that "It's over. You've won." The Pakistani replied that his country was an ally of Spain, to which Mr. Turpin said: "you are an ally to both sides".

The Pakistani "laughed heartily". — © Guardian News & Media 2010

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 5:56:04 PM |

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