By JANE PERLEZ
Published: September 24, 2011
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The public assault by the Obama administration on the Pakistani intelligence agency as a facilitator of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan has been met with scorn in Pakistan, a signal that the country has little intention of changing its ways, even perhaps at the price of the crumpled alliance.
In injured tones similar to those used after the Navy Seals raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, Pakistani officials insisted on Friday that theirs was a sovereign state that could not be pushed by America’s most senior military officials, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense.
The two Americans told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, worked hand-in-glove with the Haqqani network, a potent militant outfit sheltering in the Pakistani tribal areas, to subvert American war aims.
Admiral Mullen accused the spy agency of supporting Haqqani militants who attacked the American Embassy in Kabul last week, and he called the Haqqanis a “veritable arm” of the ISI. Mr. Panetta threatened “operational steps” against Pakistan, shorthand for possible American raids against the Haqqani bases in North Waziristan.
The connection between the spy agency and the militants has been at the center of American complaints about Pakistan since the start of the war in Afghanistan, but never before has the United States chosen to expose its grievances in such unvarnished language in the most public of forums.
In his public reply, the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Mr. Mullen’s accusations were “not based on facts,” and suggested that they were unfair given “a rather constructive” recent meeting. The ISI did not support the Haqqanis, General Kayani said.
Similarly, the country’s defense minister, Ahmad Mukhtar, said Pakistan was a sovereign nation “which cannot be threatened.”
The foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, said it was “unacceptable” for one ally, the United States, to “humiliate” another, Pakistan. “If they are choosing to do so, it will be at their own cost,” Ms. Khar said.
Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States who is close to the military, underscored that point. “Relations are headed towards a breakdown if the U.S. continues its coercive approach of threats and public accusations,” Ms. Lodhi said. “What is its plan B if there is an open rupture with Pakistan?”
The anti-American feeling in Pakistan, and within the army, surged after the raid that killed Bin Laden, which was kept secret from Pakistan’s leadership. It remains intense, making the idea of bowing to American demands to take on the Haqqanis almost unthinkable, Pakistani politicians, businessmen and analysts said.
They said General Kayani, who was under great pressure from his troops after the humiliation of the Bin Laden raid, had recovered some ground and recouped some prestige. He has no intention of giving in to the Americans now because he is betting that they still need Pakistan as the supply route for the Afghanistan war, they said.
But the larger reason is a divergence of strategic interests with the United States. The Haqqani network is seen as an important anti-India tool for the Pakistani military as it assesses the future of an Afghanistan without the Americans, a situation Pakistan sees as not far off.
General Kayani has said he fears that as the Americans exit, India will be allowed to have influence in Afghanistan, squeezing Pakistan on both its eastern and western borders, Pakistani analysts say.
Thus, the Haqqani fighters who hold sway over Paktika, Paktia and Khost Provinces in Afghanistan, and who are also strong in the capital, Kabul, and in the provinces around it, present a valuable hedge against the perceived India threat, which American officials say is overblown.
The precise relationship between the Pakistani military and spy agency on the one hand and the Haqqani network on the other remains murky, American officials say.
In talks with the Americans, the leader of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, has said he has “contact” with the Haqqanis, a senior American official said. “But he denies he has command and control.” The official said it appeared that the Haqqanis had developed into such skilled fighters over several decades that they had the Pakistani Army cowed.
According to American officials and Pakistani analysts, it appeared that the Pakistani Army had struck a bargain with the Haqqanis: The Haqqanis would be free to fight in Afghanistan, in part looking after Pakistan’s interests, and in return, the Haqqanis would not attack Pakistan.
If the Pakistani army attacked Haqqani fighters in their bases in North Waziristan, the blowback in the form of terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities and towns could be overwhelming, Pakistani military analysts say.
In a startling image of the apparent symbiosis between the Pakistani military – which controls the ISI – and the Haqqani fighters, both forces have bases in Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.
Five brigades of the Pakistani Army, about 15,000 soldiers, and the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force of about 10,000 men, have never touched the Haqqanis, American officials familiar with the situation say. Visitors to Miram Shah have said the army facilities are within sight of the Haqqani compounds.
Estimates of the Haqqani fighting strength in North Waziristan vary from 10,000 to 15,000. Technically, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who runs the group, is a member of the Afghan Taliban leadership headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar and based in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in southwest Pakistan.
The Pakistani Army struggled to defeat the Pakistani Taliban in battles in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan in 2009 and 2010, but the Taliban are still present in both places, a senior American military official said. “So why would they take on the Haqqanis, who are world class fighters?” the official asked.
As much as the Americans criticize the Pakistanis for not taking on the Haqqanis, the Pakistanis scoff at the inability of the Americans to deal with the Haqqanis on the war front in Afghanistan.
In a sarcastic column in the English-language newspaper The News on Thursday, Farrukh Saleem wrote, “If over the past decade the lone superpower has failed to tame 10,000 to 15,000 tribesmen, then the American military-intelligence complex has really failed and should be heading home.”
Pakistani military officers have contended that it is up to the American troops in Afghanistan to prevent the Haqqanis from launching terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.
In order to get to Kabul, the Haqqani fighters pass through provinces with large American bases, they say. Mr. Haqqani is believed to spend much of his time in Afghanistan, organizing his fighters.
In an interview with Reuters this week, Mr. Haqqani said he was working solely in Afghanistan. It is the same argument that Pakistani officials have been making this week as a way to rebut the American accusations that the Haqqanis live in Pakistan at all.