Cloughley– “Against a Rush to Judgment: Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban”

In light of the Wikileaks Pentagon documents are full of allegations by US military personnel of Pakistani collaboration with the Taliban, and they have increased tensions among the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is worth taking a step back, however, and remembering that not everything in classified documents is true or well founded. It is also worth remembering that some of the allegations of meetings with Taliban center on former head of Inter-Services Intelligence Hamid Gul, a hard line fundamentalist who is retired and, even if the accusations are true (which is not yet proven), who may be involved in rogue ISI cells not under Islamabad’s direct control. Moroever, the alleged meetings occurred in 2006, before Pakistan’s military took on the Taliban. Brian Cloughley replies in a guest editorial for Informed Comment to those who cast doubts on Pakistan’s efforts against the Taliban :

Against a Rush to Judgment: Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban

A paper published on June 13 by the London School of Economics states that Pakistan, at the highest political and military levels, fosters and supports insurgents in Afghanistan.Its author, Matt Waldman of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government,declares that “as the provider of sanctuary, and very substantialfinancial, military and logistical support to the [Afghan] insurgency,the ISI [Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence]appears to have strong strategic and operational influence –reinforced by coercion. There is thus a strong case that the ISI andelements of [Pakistan’s] military are deeply involved in the insurgentcampaign [in Afghanistan].”

The ISI of Pakistan is headed by Lt General Ahmad Pasha who meets frequently with senior American and other foreign intelligence representatives. Pasha’s direct superior is General Ashfaq Kayani,chief of the army, who also has discussions with the highest ranking US military officers, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who came calling in Islamabad last week.

Two days after publication of the Waldman paper a band of about 600 well-armed brigands – call them ‘Taliban’ or whatever – from Afghanistan attacked an isolated border camp in Pakistan manned by two platoons of the locally-recruited Frontier Corps which is commanded by officers of the Pakistan army. The post was one of the few that has to be supplied by air, there being no road access, and the garrison ran out of ammunition. Ten soldiers were killed and some thirty captured and taken into Afghanistan. Most were later released. Six bodies were sent back to Pakistan.

Waldman wrote that “American and other western intelligence agencies must be aware of Pakistan’s conduct” in allegedly supporting the Afghan Taliban insurgents. But if they have evidence of this supposed behavior it is presumed they would have conveyed their awareness to senior military officers, including Admiral Mullen. They could hardly sit on such important information. After all, their own soldiers are being killed day by day in ever-greater numbers by insurgents in Afghanistan, who are automatically referred to as ‘Taliban’ – this “James Joyce-style portmanteau word” as defined so pithily by Pepe Escobar – or, in more headline-luring style, as ‘al-Qaeda-associated Taliban’.

While the futile war in Afghanistan continues, with insurgents having killed 102 foreign troops in June, Mr Waldman asks us to believe that the most senior officer in the US military is content to associate with a man who he says supports the slaughter of US soldiers by purportedly endorsing “very substantial financial, military and logistical support” to the ‘Taliban’. Presumably – if the Waldman paper is kosher, as it were – the direct military representative ofthe President of the United States must have cast aside all loyalty tohis soldiers who are fighting a hideously difficult war.

There are no shades of grey, here. Either Admiral Mullen knows that the armed forces of Pakistan are assisting the enemies of the United States, or he doesn’t believe that they are doing so. If he does not know it, then the people who refrain from telling him about“substantial support” – the US intelligence agencies who Mr Waldman says “must be aware” of this extraordinary duplicity on a massive scale – are treacherous filth.

But if Admiral Mullen has been convinced by his intelligence advisers that Pakistan’s military officers of the highest rank are condoning and even supporting the slaughter of his soldiers, he is a giant-pack, five-star, Olympic-sized traitor for continuing to associate with them. Even if he only suspects, way deep down, that General Kayani,the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, and his frequent and genial interlocutor, is in some fashion nourishing enemies of his country,then he must, in all honor, blow the whistle on him.

Then we are asked to believe that General Kayani himself, the commander of over half a million troops, of whom 150,000 on the border with Afghanistan daily risk their lives for their country, permits or even encourages some of his subordinates to be “deeply involved” in the insurgency in Afghanistan which results in the killing of his own soldiers when the Afghan Taliban attack Pakistan’s border posts.

* * *

We live in a weird and worrisome world, but it will be a strange day indeed when America’s most senior military officer shakes hands and talks with a foreign army chief who he has been told is “playing a double game of astonishing magnitude” that results in the deaths ofhis nation’s soldiers. And I state flatly that no military leader would ever aid and abet insurgents who attack his country and kill members of his own armed forces, which is what Mr Waldman asserts that General Kayani is doing.

* * *

Of course Pakistan’s ISI is “involved” in Afghanistan. It would be peculiar were the agency not committed to intelligence operations there, just as are the CIA, Britain’s SIS, India’s RAW and almost every other spy organization of note.

Mind you, the CIA team in Afghanistan is, to put it kindly, amateur,with the magnet of massive money attracting people who tell them what they want to hear. The Brits are much poorer and comparatively tiny in presence, and in product tend to condescend to their allied spooks, but have proved easy to penetrate to the extent that the Pakistanis have quiet giggles about some of their operatives and operations. The Indians try hard, but – in spite of what the Pakistanis say – are almost entirely without influence in Afghanistan, although they fund a badly-run training camp in Nimroz for a gang of moronic malcontents who call themselves the Baloch National Army.A musical about Afghanistan’s all-singing, all-dancing, international spook drama could be titled the Zigzag Follies.

* * *

Afghanistan is an enormously important neighbor of Pakistan, and the ISI would be failing in its duty were it not to have agents in as many places – politically, militarily and geographically – as it can manage to contrive.

ISI’s operatives, just as their counterparts in other nations’ agencies, are not purring pussy cats. They move in freaky circles and mix with some people who would be considered by most of us to be psychotic criminals. They meet and speak with their countries’ enemies whenever they can set up such contacts. General Kayani told me three years ago, when he was head of ISI, that “of course” his people talked with members of militant ultra-Islamic movements because otherwise “how can we keep track of them?”

We may not approve of the methods of Intelligence operatives, many of whom are jokes, but those of us living in democracies get what our governments consider to be best for us. If that involves some decidedly dubious activities in the course of seeking pre-emptive intelligence that might save our fellow citizens’ lives, then so be it. Talking with vicious insurrectionists is repugnant, certainly –but as the commander of the British army said last week, recollecting that British spooks talked with the brutal fanatics of Irish murder gangs at the height of their terrorist onslaught that killed so many innocents, “If you look at any counter-insurgency campaign throughout history there’s always a point at which you start to negotiate with each other . . . ”

This is exactly what the ISI has been planning for over the past six years. Of course its agents have many contacts among Afghan insurgents. And they try to help bridge the gap between fanatical barbarism and the rule of law.

But that doesn’t mean Pakistan gives “very substantial financial, military and logistical support” to the savage Afghans who wage war against it.

It is lunacy to imagine that the chief of the Pakistan army helps kill his own soldiers. And anyone who thinks that the most senior officer in the US military would support him in doing so belongs to a different planet.

Brian Cloughley’s website is www.beecluff. com

15 Responses

  1. ‘Taliban’ – this “James Joyce-style portmanteau word” as defined so pithily by Pepe Escobar

    But Taliban is not a portmanteau word. It’s a pashto word, meaning students, and the plural of talib, which means student. A portmanteau is a blend of two (or more) words into a new one. eg: breathalyzer from breath and analyzer.

    • …and yet it IS a portmanteau word in the sense that it describes a militant organization, and it’s affiliates, strongly influenced by Deobandi Islam.

  2. Perhaps a bit of disaggregation is in order, especially when it comes to the ISI and the Pakistan military on the one hand, and the Taliban on the other–in other words, an intense battle between and among factions in both cases where some unseemly associations fit the overlapping aims of the different factions within the Pakistani military for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. That would fit the picture of double games with the Americans betting on Kayani’s pro-American faction to win out.

    Pakistan is a military-led state with its monopoly on foreign policy and the consequential distortions and exaggerations of its own self-image as a power in South Asia. Their record in using proxies for their own aims is not good: whether it be A.Q. Khan, Sunni militias within Punjab and Northern Pakistan, the Taliban, or the Jamaat-i-Islami during the war of secession in East Bengal. The military has a history of adventurism (might I add at the expense of the development of the quality of life of its own citizens).

  3. The logic in this editorial is shaky at best. First, the author suggests that “there are no shades of gray here,” and that Mullen is either certain that Pakistan is aiding the Afghan Taliban or has no such suspicions whatsoever. War is nothing but a vast, murky gray area, and I’m sure there’s plenty of room in this war for the United States to suspect Pakistani complicity in the Taliban insurgency, whether or not it has definitive evidence.

    Furthermore, the author’s entire argument rests on the flimsy premise that the heads of the US military and the ISI are too ethical and sane to put their own soldiers at risk by involving themselves in a strategic double game, whether it is the ISI working with and against the US, or the US military tolerating Pakistani duplicity for the sake of securing important supply lines and avoiding a much wider conflict with a nuclear-armed nation. Clearly, both parties see strategic value in this charade, one that Mullen and the ISI believe is more important than the US or Pakistani soldiers being killed in the process. Sadly, pragmatism and strategic interest are the prime motivators in war, not sanity and ethics as Cloughley seems to think.

    Finally, Cloughley fails to account for the Taliban’s leadership’s presence in Pakistan, the Pakistani’s refusal to move against them, and clear evidence that the ISI has been using the Haqqani network as a proxy against Indian targets in Afghanistan. I am no champion of this war and believe the US should withdraw from the conflict before we further destabilize the region, but I think it’s naivete to ignore the obvious signs of Pakistan collusion with the Taliban.

  4. “It is lunacy to imagine that the chief of the Pakistan army helps kill his own soldiers. And anyone who thinks that the most senior officer in the US military would support him in doing so belongs to a different planet.”

    Just like it’s lunacy for the US to indirectly fund the same forces that kill their soldiers in Afghanistan? Or, better yet, is it like the lunacy that expects more years, money, and lives wasted in Afghanistan will yield a different and positive result?

    Even if Mullen wanted to there’s not much he could do with such information. Does he cut ties to Pakistan? Does he try and go into Pakistan with US forces? Does he actually tell them to stop it and expect it to actually have some sort of effect?

  5. Brian Cloughley conveniently uses his Portmanteau Word to slur over what it is that Pakistan is doing. There are, at a minimum, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban. In reality within each, there are factions. The Pakistani Army supports certain of these factions; and fights some of the others. By lumping all of the Taliban together and ignoring these different groups, Cloughley is able to make arguments like “It is lunacy to imagine that the chief of the Pakistan army helps kill his own soldiers.” (i.e., “how can Pakistan both fight and support the Taliban?”) This is intellectual dishonesty of a high order. For Professor Juan Cole to reproduce this here is a betrayal of his own standards, because he knows better. e.g., he mentions at least two factions of Taliban here:

    “Of course, that issue raises the question of which faction of Taliban is active in Marawara. Is it the Old Taliban of Mulla Omar (which tends to have its power bases in the West) or the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan), based over the border in Pakistan?”
    in his post here.

  6. Why do the New York Times and other American institutions take Pakistan’s support of the Taliban as a given? Why does President Obama or Secretary Clinton seem to allow this sense to prevail? I do not understand what all this means.

  7. My sense is that the Administration and military command are looking to put pressure on Pakistan, and the reports are just so much propaganda.

  8. For a pragmatic analysis of the Wikileaks, read todays Stratfor presentation. It makes more sense than anything I have read here.

  9. Brian knows and understands Pakistan well enough not to write such articles.

    The Pakistani Army rules the country, with or without a civilian cover. The Army represents the interests of rich feudal families who own vast tracks of land. The ISI is the tool of the ruling establishment to preserve the idealogical moorings of Pakistan; i.e. provide opium to the masses. Everyone else, including the average Pakistani soldier is expendable.

    You see that:
    When it brainwashes young men to become suicide bombers;
    When it uses F-16s and artillery to bomb civilians in NWFP in the so-called war against the Taleban before a major American leader is about to visit.
    When it butchered hundreds of thousands of its own fellow citizens in East Pakistan.
    When it refused to accept the dead-bodies of its soldiers in uniform after the Kargil war to keep up the pretense that it was not involved.

    The Pakistani ruling class has no qualms in playing both sides as long as the money from Washington keeps on rolling in. It is suffering some blow-back from confused jehadis but they are tolerating it because they know NATO is looking to cut its losses and run. And once NATO exits, the pressure to keep up this pretense of the war against the Taleban will be gone.

    • Victor, I agree with most of what you say, however, the army does not represent the feudal elite. In fact, they have been opposed to it at times (Generals Ayub and Zia). What exists is a social contract that leaves the internal status quo to the feudals, and the external, foreign policy to the military. The political contest between the two occur when either encroaches upon the other’s territory. With all that said, the military that has become a corporation, and feudal elite that has diversified its wealth, now more than ever have aligned interests because the class composition has changed.

  10. Do the actual rulers of Pakistan demand that Afghanistan be a satellite, or do they accept it as a sovereign state? If the former, as Michael Scheuer claims, then there will always be a Taliban, or something like it. No one pretends that the Pakistani Army is not deeply involved in the Kashmir resistance. That is its modus operandi with its neighbors.

    So where does that leave America? It can’t leave Afghanistan because of the specter of 9/11. It can’t admit that Pakistan keeps the Taliban alive without declaring Pakistan an enemy. Pakistan has atomic bombs because the US spent the ’80s and ’90s pretending that Pakistan was a friend, so clearly there are asses which must be covered. Besides, all-out war between the US and Pakistan is unthinkable, so there is nowhere to escalate to.

    That leaves us with Afghanistan as a tragic ritual slaughter, which cannot end as long as Pakistan and America each demand its subjugation to their competing agendas, and each denies demanding its subjugation.

  11. @Arjay,
    I read that Stratfor presentation. I thought that it was pretty good except for the part about why the US is in Afghanistan.

  12. I wonder if aid to Pakistan will be jeopardized by these leaks. Would be very difficult if it is for a bankrupt economy.

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