Op-Ed: Secret cable called 'deal breaker' in US Afghanistan pullout plan
A secret cable from America's ambassador to Afghanistan warns that the presence of enemy safe havens in Pakistan could be a "dealbreaker" in American efforts to end our nation's longest war.
According to a report Friday evening in the online Washington Post
, the cable, written by Ryan C. Crocker, amounted to an admission that years of U.S. efforts to curtail insurgent activity in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, a key Taliban ally, were failing. According to the Post, because of the intended secrecy of that message, Crocker sent it through CIA channels, rather than normal State Department ones.
The Post spoke with several officials familiar with the cable's content. They contend it could be used as ammunition by senior military officials who favor more aggressive action by the United States against the Haqqani havens in Pakistan. It also could give support to calls from senior military officials for a more-gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as the 2014 deadline for ending combat operations approaches.
So, will our involvement in Afghanistan -- which will hit the 11-year mark in November -- be known as the war that never ended? The Pakistani government, our supposed ally, refuses to take action against the Haqqani network which has taken steps to avoid antagonizing the Pakistanis, focusing on American, Afghani and Indian targets.
For its part, the United States has refrained from attacking the Haqqani main base in Miran Shah out of concern over the collateral damage that could be inflicted on nearby schools and the civilian casualties and Pakistani backlash that would no doubt follow such an attack.
This presents something of a Gordian Knot for America and its allies in Afghanistan. Troops are making progress in capturing and killing Haqqani troops and operatives on the Afghanistan side of the border. However, the Post reports that U.S. efforts have have been hampered by the group’s populated sanctuary, its close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, and diplomatic ruptures that caused pauses in the CIA drone campaign.
In September, Adm. Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vented publicly, testifying before Congress that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistanis Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
U.S. officials subsequently said that Mullen’s characterization overstated the relationship, but many remain convinced that the network couldn’t operate without tacit support from Pakistan.
Pakistan, which has its own nuclear arsenal, is officially America's ally in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Yet evidence continues to surface showing that while the Pakistani government's official stance is with America and its allies, the "Pakistani on the Street" seems more and more to identify with the Taliban and its supporters. The Pakistani government has to walk a thin line between antagonizing its growing Islamic fundamentalist element and those who see the Taliban as a scourge.
For now, the Pakistani government is playing both sides. They enjoy the financial support of America, but they also wish to stay in power and not be ousted by a popular, pro-Islamic fundamentalist revolt.
Our future in the region seems to be tied to whether or not America and its allies intend to allow the Pakistani government to have its cake and eat it, too.