President Bush promoted Pakistan in 2004 to MNNA, the same status enjoyed by close allies Israel, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Egypt and Jordan. Major Non-NATO allies get priority in defense purchases. They have no North Atlantic Treaty obligations, but club rules preclude undermining NATO.
Pakistan has been violating club rules — big time. President Pervez Musharraf not only knows but also approves all major operations by his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Official fiction holds that Pakistan is not assisting Taliban’s comeback insurgency in Afghanistan. In fact, ISI is doing just that. The U.S. and NATO are being deliberately undermined by ISI with the full knowledge and approval of Mr. Musharraf.
ISI is also directing its Taliban proxies to agree to local coalition governments in return for a case-fire and the withdrawal of NATO troops. Such a deal is now in effect in Helmand Province, which borders Afghanistan and is officially the responsibility of British troops under NATO command.
Interrogation of Taliban prisoners and suspected agents — about 1,500 so far — by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s intelligence service shows every one (with no exception) came from Pakistan, many of them former pupils in madrassas (Koranic schools).
Most had been trained and equipped in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan’s two provinces that border Afghanistan, both governed by pro-Taliban administrations and both friendly to al Qaeda. The entire Taliban resurgence, the interrogations show, was conducted “under the supervision of ISI operatives, one to three layers removed.” Speaking privately, a U.S. general involved in the Taliban account at the Pentagon, said: “We know but maintain the fiction Musharraf doesn’t know. Coalition partners also know. Hence their reluctance to increase Afghan troop commitments.”
The White House knows about Mr. Musharraf’s doublecross in Afghanistan, but the steady stream of bad news out of Iraq precludes even worse news from what is still described as a success story.
The Taliban prisoners also told Afghan security interrogators that Pakistan supplied medical services, as well as rest and recreation facilities near the provincial capitals of Quetta and Peshawar.
Taliban was an ISI project to quell the mayhem that followed the humiliating withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 after a disastrous 10-year occupation. Its first recruits came from major madrassas, Koranic schools, under Wahhabi or Deobandi control, where they were taught the holy book by heart, along with the love of holy war to kill all enemies of Islam.
ISI claims it did not sire Taliban. But it was present at its birth and assumed the role of wet nurse and then foster parent. ISI also provided training and equipment, and guided tactics and strategy as Taliban, based in Pakistan, under ISI supervision, conquered Afghanistan. Kabul fell to a victorious Taliban in 1996 where flat-Earth clerics established their medieval dominion. Mullah Mohammed Omar, an Islamist Torquemada, ruled as a tyrant for the next five years until the U.S. invasion in October 2001.
ISI had 1,500 officers and operatives in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The country represented Pakistan’s defense in depth in the event of an Indian invasion. Many ISI agents were veterans of the anti-Soviet guerrilla campaign fought by the mujahideen under ISI direction, with funding and weapons from Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
The ISI culture has been anti-American ever since the U.S. turned against Pakistan after the Soviets left Afghanistan. The country’s secret nuclear weapons program, protected by ISI, incurred a slew of hostile U.S. diplomatic, military and economic sanctions.
The Pakistani military, particularly ISI, is in a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde mode when it comes to U.S. military requests. President Musharraf reacts favorably to U.S. intelligence on al Qaeda’s operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the rest of Pakistan. Almost 700 al Qaeda terrorists have been arrested since Osama Bin Laden and his entourage escaped from the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.
ISI also gets high praise for cooperating with British and U.S. intelligence on the movements of Pakistani Brits and Americans suspected of plotting terrorist actions. But ISI stubbornly protects Taliban insurgents when they cross back into Pakistan after killing U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. And al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, despite a $25 million bounty for information leading to his capture or death, continues to lead a charmed life in a secret location in Pakistan.
The controversial pact Mr. Musharraf signed with tribal leaders in North Waziristan Sept. 5 was officially described as an attempt to sharply curtail Taliban activities. In fact, the deal was signed by pro-Taliban tribal chiefs who went right on helping Taliban in their privileged sanctuaries. And Taliban attacks in Afghanistan were up fourfold to more than 600 a month by the end of September.
Mr. Musharraf tries to placate domestic rival factions and forces — in this case, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, a six-party coalition of religious extremists) and, on the other side, the U.S., Afghanistan and NATO.
The British, Canadian, Dutch and German NATO allies fighting in Afghanistan know the score on ISI’s assistance to the Taliban. Now fighting with battalion-size units, Taliban enjoys ISI-protected privileged sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border. But Mr. Musharraf’s hanky-panky diplomacy is running out of hokey-pokey disinformation.
Taliban’s Operation Comeback now enjoys seamless battle space that stretches from Afghanistan’s border provinces all the way into Pakistan’s Pashtun region. And 12,000 U.S. and 32,000 (including 10,000 U.S.) NATO troops (from 11 of the alliance’s 26 members) are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. Officially, they all make believe Pakistan’s ISI isn’t helping its Taliban wards. Taliban and its ISI guardians also enjoy a nice slice of the multibillion-dollar opium poppy cake, now a record of almost 6,000 tons, a 61 percent increase in poppy land under cultivation. This enables them to pay their recruits double Afghan army wages and four times what police make.
NATO allies imposed some 120 caveats — 50 deemed “meaningful” — on where and when their soldiers could be used. Some said “no dusk-to-dawn operations,” which is when Taliban guerrillas are on the move. Others would only serve in “tranquil provinces” in the north with little Taliban activity.
At the recent NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, President Bush obtained pledges to lift some — unspecified — of the combat curbs on troop use. But France, Germany, Italy and Spain still declined to allow their troops to be deployed in “hot” combat zones close to the mythical Pakistan-Afghanistan demarcation. But they conceded unspecified “exceptions” for unspecified “emergencies.” And France even suggested bringing Iran into the mix for a “global strategy” to address NATO’s difficulties in Afghanistan.
Iran recently completed a 130-kilometer (78-mile) highway from the border to the western Afghan capital of Herat. Pakistan’s “Major Non-NATO Ally” status became a total sham when Pakistani ministers traveling abroad in recent weeks said — and later denied they said — NATO needed to reach an accommodation with the Taliban insurgency. “Instead of fighting Taliban militants, foreign troops should reconcile themselves to this reality,” one of them said in London, and “if the Western world makes the mistake of prolonging this war, we would only see a never-ending conflict.”
By this Pakistani logic, NATO was now the culprit and should make way for Taliban, now part of the global jihad. Al Qaeda could expect to get back its Afghan bases. Afghanistan could be a case of reverse “shock and awe.” With its 70 percent illiteracy and an economy 60 percent dependent on opium and heroin, democracy was never a viable option there.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.