- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pakistan has cooperated secretly with the U.S. on several war-fighting missions in an odd-couple alliance that also sees factions in Islamabad backing the fiercest American enemy.

The uneasy relationship is being put to the test again, as Pakistan accused NATO on Saturday of unleashing a helicopter strike on a Pakistan army border outpost and said 24 soldiers were killed.

U.S. military personnel who have served in the region tell The Washington Times that Pakistan does far more in secret than either side acknowledges. It wants money from Washington to keep flowing, yet fears a democratic Afghanistan could one day align itself with archenemy India, analysts say.

Pakistan’s dual objectives help create this odd alliance.

Last summer, as then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen was castigating Pakistan in public for aiding the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, the CIA was launching Predator drone strikes from Pakistani air bases on suspected militants. The U.S. military has deemed Haqqani its greatest threat, ranking it above the Taliban and al Qaeda.

In April, as the Obama administration was keeping Islamabad in the dark on the Osama bin Laden raid for fear of a leak, the U.S. Navy routinely flew aircraft from carriers over the country’s airspace, along designated “highways,” to hit targets in Afghanistan.

James Russell, an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., said Pakistan needs U.S. cash to maintain a large army and to deter India.

“The Pakistani military has a longstanding relationship with the United States,” he said. “We have been a principal provider of military equipment, training and money for many years.

Pakistan has needed our help to maintain its army, which defends the country from its principal adversary — India. Like many of the countries in the region, the military is the most important, national-level institution that helps hold the country together.”

U.S. aid not only forces Pakistan to help in the war but also acts as an investment to protect the country from radical Islam, a development that would be worse for Washington than a balky Islamabad.

“We fear that that country will fall apart without a strong military, creating another haven for Islamic extremist terrorists in a country that has nuclear weapons,” Mr. Russell said.

Pakistan has helped in other ways.

In 2009 and early 2010, as Pakistani intelligence officials were harassing U.S. embassy personnel, according to a State Department cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, the government’s guards were convoying critical supplies for NATO troops.

It was from Pakistani soil and airspace that the U.S. launched the initial attack on Taliban-held Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, according to participants.

The cover story was that commandos struck from a carrier in the Arabian Sea. In fact, they staged in bases inside Pakistan, joining anti-Taliban Afghans — such as the future president, Hamid Karzai — then swooping across the border via helicopters.

A former intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan said Pakistan has allowed the U.S. to create CIA/Joint Special Operations Command safe houses inside the country to hunt down militants. The CIA/JSOC fusion has led to the capture and deaths of scores of al Qaeda militants, including bin Laden.

“We based drones at several of their air bases that have resulted in a lot of [al Qaeda deaths],” the former officer said. “They have allowed transit of equipment via rail and via air through Pakistan en route to Afghanistan.”

This source said Pakistan views al Qaeda has a gang of Arab outsiders who threaten the regime, whereas the Haqqani Network has tribal ties to officials inside the armed forces and government.

“Basing rights and the establishment of logistics routes into Afghanistan have been the two most important aspects of our partnership since 9/11,” said an Army Special Forces officer. “It could be argued that those things are the only reasons we pretend there is a partnership at all.”

Intelligence sharing, however, remains spotty, since the CIA believes information passed to Islamabad on certain targets ends up as a tip-off to militants to change locations.

“They have assisted in the apprehension of terrorists, but I believe they were very selective on if or when to help in such operations,” the Army officer said.

The Obama administration has embarked on a $7.5 billion economic aid program over five years to build schools, improve electricity and spur economic growth in Pakistan.

But the Government Accountability Office reported this year that only a small portion had been spent over fears that Pakistani government corruption was diverting the money.

In July, the New York Times reported the administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid in protest over Pakistan’s failure to launch promised counterterror operations and its refusal to allow new U.S trainers into the country.

The Congressional Research Service reports that Congress has appropriated more than $22 billion in economic and security-related aid to Pakistan since 2002.

James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Pakistan aids militants such as the Haqqani Network because it fears a Pashtun-dominated Afghanistan will one day form an alliance with India.

“To preclude such an alliance, the Pakistani military historically has encouraged Islamist radicals inside Afghanistan because it knows that they will be willing allies against India and will be less likely to foment a Pashtun nationalist rebellion inside Pakistan,” Mr. Phillips said.

He said Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which helped bring the Taliban to power, is eyeing President Obama’s 2014 troop exit date from Afghanistan as a time to re-exert power across the border.

“The ISI, which controls Islamabad’s Afghanistan policy, works covertly with the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other insurgent groups to gain a hammerlock on Afghan politics after the U.S. withdraws,” Mr. Phillips said. “Regrettably, by emphasizing the exit timetable arbitrarily imposed on the U.S. troop surge, the Obama administration has encouraged ISI’s belief that Washington is only concerned with rushing for the exit and that it can continue its duplicitous policy with little consequence for the bilateral relationship.”