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Afghanistan's worst fear about Pakistan confirmed

Posted: October 18, 2011 - 11:02pm

KABUL, Afghanistan — Most Afghans have long believed it. Now the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has publicly said it. The only remaining question is whether Washington will be able to do anything about it.

When Adm. Mike Mullen told a U.S. Senate Committee that the armed group founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency” and that there was evidence that the insurgent group, “with ISI support,” mounted a Sept. 13 attack on the U.S embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, he was only publicly stating allegations that have circulated for years regarding the ISI’s support for such insurgent organizations battling the Afghan government.

But Mullen’s statement was much more explosive, since he accused the ISI of sponsoring devastating attacks specifically targeting U.S. forces, as well as their Afghan allies.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gillani, said the government was shocked at the U.S. commander’s allegations and totally rejected them. The charges “negate our sacrifices and successes in the ongoing war against terror,” he said.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Al-Jazeera television the allegations were “unsubstantiated — no evidence has been shared with us.” Without spelling out the ISI’s relationship with the Haqqani group, the foreign minister pointed out that in the past, the organization had been “the blue-eyed boy of the CIA itself for many years; I mean it was created by the CIA, it could be said.”

Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani was commander of a mujahidin force regarded as particularly effective during the Western-backed war against the Soviets in the 1980s, and went on to align himself with both the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The force has played an important role in the insurgency since 2001, allied with but distinct from the Taliban.

Haqqani seems to have taken a back seat and handed over command to his son, Sirajuddin.

The group operates out of North Waziristan in northwest Pakistan, just over the border from Paktia, Khosta and Paktika, the Afghan provinces where the elder Haqqani has strong tribal connections and operated in the 1980s.

Of late, however, the “Haqqani network,” as the group is now known, has gained notoriety for its ability to mount complicated, daring and devastating attacks in urban areas, such as the attacks in Kabul.

It has also been blamed for the recent assassination of Burhannudin Rabbani, the former Afghan president tasked with negotiating with the insurgents, although Sirajuddin Haqqani denied this in a BBC interview.

Many Afghans felt Mullen’s comments vindicated their long-held suspicions of Pakistan’s role in the decade-long conflict.

Abdol Wahed Taqat, a former general and now a political and defense analyst, believes there is a deep schism between the United States and Pakistan.

“Fundamentalism has got out of control in Pakistan. And that situation does not favor the Americans,” he said.

But it is unclear whether Washington is willing to rupture relations with a nation that not only possesses nuclear weapons, but is also located in a strategic part of the world.

Ajmal Sohail, a political commentator, said such tensions are a recurring feature of U.S.-Pakistani relations. He noted that the row over the killing of Osama bin Laden quickly dissipated.

“The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is like that between husband and wife — they frequently fight, but then they reconcile,” he said. “These conflicts are sporadic and temporary.” Jamshid, a student at Kabul University, expressed a cynical view of how Afghanistan is a victim of the dysfunctional relationship between Washington and Islamabad.

“I am sure the U.S. will apologize (for Mullen’s statement); the terror networks in Pakistan will remain untouched; America will pay Pakistan another $1 billion, and the war pursued by Pakistan will continue in Afghanistan,” he said.

“Afghans will no longer be deceived by the cat-and-mouse games played by America and Pakistan. Both of them are enemies of the Afghans,” Kabul shopkeeper Abdul Shokur said. “Israel and Pakistan are America’s pampered children. No matter what those pampered children want, America will accept it. The Americans are prepared to lose Afghanistan, but they will never lose Pakistan. If America exerted real pressure on Pakistan, I am sure the war in Afghanistan would end within two days.”

• Danishju and Habib are reporters in Afghanistan who write for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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