President Pervez Musharraf during his visit to Washington made a series of statements dramatic enough to cheer any book publisher. In his promotion of his memoir (which he did not launch until after his joint interview with President Bush), Musharraf gave television viewers a tour of the exclamatory remarks in his book, including a charge that the CIA paid Pakistan millions to extradite Al-Qaeda suspects and that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage after 9/11 threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it did not cooperate-terms that Armitage denies using.
Regardless of what words Armitage used, he admits to delivering a strong ultimatum to Pakistan. And whether the CIA paid for prisoners or not, Musharraf has gone to curious lengths to communicate the message that Pakistan is compensated for its cooperation with Washington. Those revelations illustrate Pakistan's defining national-security calculus: the sense that counter-terror initiatives may satisfy Washington but can hurt Pakistan by destabilizing the country. Pakistan views its cooperation with Washington more as a quid-pro-quo enterprise than an endeavor that benefits Pakistan.
Indeed, news this summer demonstrates both the continued importance of Pakistani cooperation in the global war on terrorism-and the deep roots of terror in that country. Pakistan's capture and interrogation of British subject Rashid Rauf helped Britain defeat a dramatic plan for massed bomb attacks on trans-Atlantic airliners. Almost simultaneously, Pakistan in a well-publicized move closed down a Quetta hospital for insurgents wounded in Afghanistan. The hundreds of recent arrests in Pakistan include the capture of Hafeez Saeed, founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group and head of a terrorist front charity, Jamaat-al Dawaa. And Al-Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri issues regular death threats against Musharraf-which have resulted in three assassination attempts.
But U.S. policy must reconcile these facts with equally strong evidence that Pakistan remains a country where terrorist organizations recruit, train and operate. The insurgency in Afghanistan uses Pakistan as a base for its attacks on U.S. and NATO troops. Al-Qaeda cells operate in major cities. Osama bin Laden likely remains hidden in Pakistan.
Insurgent prisoners captured in Afghanistan tell the same story as their predecessors a decade ago: recruited in Karachi, trained near Islamabad, sent across the Durand line to fight in Afghanistan. Training in Pakistan is not limited to low-level Kalashnikov-carriers. The video wills of 7/7 London terrorists suggest at least two trained in Pakistan.
Ambivalent on Afghanistan
Pakistani foreign policy towards Afghanistan has the same unreconciled dichotomies. In response to Afghanistan's appeals to Pakistan for help in halting the cross-border insurgency, Islamabad has pressed Afghanistan to agree to the Durand line as the international border, something that no Kabul government-even the Taliban that was heavily dependent on Pakistan and did not have to get elected-could agree to. At the same time, Pakistan has often expressed desire for better relations with Kabul and many of its actions bear this out, including the 23 August Tripartite Commission agreement on border security.
In the past, powerful intelligence agencies implemented Pakistani policies that saw Afghanistan through the distorting prism of internal politics and a counter-India strategy-leading Islamabad to try to install and maintain, by armed force, Kabul governments "friendly" to Islamabad, Islamic in ideology and of Pushtun ethnicity. Pakistani policy was implemented through a series of chosen Afghan proxies-all of them Pushtun and practicing the politics of Islamic radicalism. Islamabad's continued reluctance to uproot insurgents raises the issue of the continued influence of Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and its compulsion to achieve Pakistan's "strategic depth" in Afghanistan vis-a-vis its nuclear neighbor India.
Despite U.S. statements to the contrary, much of the Pakistani leadership-especially the military-believes that the United States will eventually disengage from Afghanistan as it did in 1989-leaving Pakistan to fill the vacuum. The United States and its coalition partners must make clear that Pakistan can and must do more against insurgents and terrorists. The main beneficiary of such action will be Pakistan. By demonstrating its commitment to Afghanistan, the United States will make it easier for Musharraf to restrain those governmental organizations that still see insurgency as a valid policy tool for Afghanistan. Neither the international terrorist nor the cross-border insurgent wishes the government in Islamabad well nor even considers it legitimate. Paying the political costs for action now is necessary to assure the future of Pakistan.
Blowback and Ironies
U.S. officials are naturally inclined to press Pakistan to deal with terrorism overtly and aggressively. But while Washington should push Islamabad to do more, it must acknowledge the potential for backlash. The highly visible yet potentially counterproductive actions that Washington applauds-such as large-scale military operations along the border and air strikes-should be avoided. In Waziristan, Pakistan is reportedly reasserting power in the old, quiet way, through diplomacy, bribes and threats-turning away from the approach urged on them by United States, which prompted Pakistan's deployment of 80,000 troops and resulted in the deaths of some 500 to 800 of them. Reverting back to the time-tested tactics of maintaining power may yield dividends.
Ironically, U.S. pressure to provide results for the global war on terrorism has also strengthened the hand of the ISI-which for many years considered the formulation and execution of Afghanistan policy its personal franchise. By producing suspects and information, the ISI can gain Pakistan international stature or, by looking the other way, it can demonstrate there is a cost for failing to deal with Pakistan's anti-terrorist agents.
Musharraf has indeed purged the ISI but it remains uncertain how successful he has been in establishing control of Pakistan's Afghanistan policy and how much of this control would be transferable to a successor. Establishing and maintaining control over intelligence is a difficult task even in developed democracies; in Pakistan it may determine nothing less than the eventual success or failure of the state.
While Pakistan has indeed done a lot to fight terrorism, there is a lot of terrorism in Pakistan to fight. A series of strategic and tactical alliances with some terrorist groups (and, more often, their supporters) by Pakistani governments and their military and intelligence services dating back to the 1970s have created a resilient terrorist infrastructure that, despite renewed government efforts since 9/11, can only be rolled back slowly and at great political cost.
Attributing this world-class inconsistency to the incapacity of a well-intentioned Pakistani government or the duplicity of a double-dealing one are popular views in Islamabad and New Delhi, respectively, but provide little in the way of effective guidance for Washington. Pakistanis need to sustain and direct their counter-terror efforts of the past few years. At the same time, the extremist Islamist groups that feed international terrorist need to be driven away from the environment they find supportive.
Musharraf and his Balancing Act
Musharraf may indeed find it hard to do this effectively without paying a prohibitive political price before the 2007 presidential election, but such a step is of existential importance for Pakistan. In order to be effective over the next year Musharraf will need to perfect his balancing act: while cracking down on Islamic radicalism, he must avoid alienating his potential political base. While support for Islamic radical parties remains limited inside Pakistan, they are adept at presenting every move against them as a blow to Islam itself, done to please the United States.
In the longer term, Islamabad will have to address the spread of "Taliban culture." Unless Pakistan can offer its citizens something better-jobs, security, basic services and more than lip service to social justice-that culture will remain a threat to Afghanistan regardless of government policies.
Greater and better-directed engagement by the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan will serve as a deterrent to Pakistan to revive failed and self-destructive policies. After all, strong verbiage, evoking the Stone Age and otherwise, can reap only temporary benefits.
David C. Isby is a Washington-based author and consultant on national security and foreign policy issues and a frequent visitor to South Asia. Books he has written include: Russia's War in Afghanistan, War in a Distant Country, and Afghanistan: The Russian Empire at High Tide.