America’s Pakistan problem - Joe Gandelman

As America moves into the 21st Century, it faces an increasingly vexing problem: what's it to do about Pakistan?

Is it friend or foe, or an unacceptable combination of both? Is giving it sensitive information a national security risk? Does it have freelancing elements working against American interests? Or, are these elements not really freelancing? Is it playing a double game? Is Pakistan covertly in the violence-exportation business?

What kind of policy protects American interests when it involves a politically unstable nuke-equipped country with powerful elements within it that seem to be working actively with those who'd like to blow Americans up? Those are just some of the questions raised by news about Pakistan in recent months.

U.S.-Pakistan relations have been rollercoaster-like for many years, but the relationship was forever changed on May 2 when Navy Seals staged a daring raid into Pakistan’s territory that killed Al Qaeda terrorist boss Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, in the middle of the equivalent of Pakistan's West Point — raising the possibility that the Pakistan government, its military and/or its intelligence services were incompetent at fighting terrorism at home at best, and bin Laden's protectors at worst.

Several other incidents later took place that seemingly confirms a growing belief that Pakistan is not trustworthy. Then came the catalysts that pitchforked the issue of Pakistan's into the headlines. A Sept. 10 truck bombing at a NATO outpost south of Kabul killed five people and wounded 77 coalition soldiers. Then press reports revealed that cell phones found on attackers in the Sept 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were linked to Pakistan intelligence officials.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, didn't mince words in his testimony to Congress. He charged there was collusion between Pakistani intelligence and the Afghan Taliban group, the Haqqani — a family of some 10,000 fighters based in Pakistan's tribal areas, described by the New York Times as an Afghani version of "The Sopranos."

Mullen made it clear he felt the truck bomb and the embassy bombing were carried out with the help of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence agency, the ISI.

"With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We also have credible evidence that they were behind the June 28th attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations. [The] Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency."

Several analysts considered this part of an effort to force the Pakistani government to crack down on the Haqqani network, or at least go along with expanded U.S. drone attacks. But Islamabad's reaction escalated the war of words over the war on terror even more. Officials denied the allegation and warned the U.S. about its relationship with their country.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told a Pakistani TV channel in the U.S.: "You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people." Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani insisted it was up to Washington to repair relations and gave this thinly veiled threat: "They can't live with us — they can't live without us ..."

Defense Secretary Leon Penetta called on Pakistan to end any links to the Haqqani group and crack down on it. If not, Panetta warned, the U.S. will take unilateral action.

Ever since Richard Nixon "tilted" to Pakistan partially because of his strategy to establish U.S. relations with China, Indians have been dismayed over what they insisted was America's bias toward Pakistan and against India, the world's largest Democracy. Indians have long argued Pakistan played a double game and accused the ISI of having had a hand in some terrorist attacks on Indian soil.

Since 9/11, Pakistan has received more than $18 billion in military and economic aid from Washington. Many will now seek to reduce future aid. In New Delhi, officials must be smiling with this phrase on their lips: "We told you so."

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of “The Moderate Voice,” an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at jgandelman@themoderatevoice.com. His column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.