The explicit warnings last week from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top US officials to Pakistan about the activities of the so-called Haqqani group in Pakistan and Afghanistan threaten to open a dangerous new front in the war in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is openly warning that the United States might attack the Haqqanis inside Pakistan directly: “We’ve made clear that we are going to do everything we have to do to defend our forces. I don’t think it would be helpful to describe what those options would look like and what operational steps we may or may not take.” And Pakistan, naturally, is warning that doing so would be a bad idea:
ISLAMABAD (AP)—Pakistan’s foreign minister on Saturday warned the United States against sending ground troops to her country to fight an Afghan militant group that America alleges is used as a proxy by Pakistan’s top intelligence agency for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
If President Obama wants to continue to wind down the war, and run for re-election in 2102 as the president who ended George W. Bush’s two wars, he’d better avoid an attack on the Haqqanis. Among other things, an attack on the entrenched camps of the Haqqanis could risk blowing Pakistan apart, leading to an outright military takeover in Islamabad, an intensified alliance between Pakistan and China, a sharply escalated Pakistani effort to topple the Karzai government in Afghanistan and even a cataclysmic war between Pakistan and India.
But those possibilities aren’t stopping Obama administration officials from making threats. And already the hawks, neoconservatives and militarists in the United States are demanding blood. Let’s see if the Republican presidential candidates, who’ve so far seemed downright dovish when it comes to Afghanistan, join in the bloodlust for calls to go after Haqqani.
Seizing on Mullen’s comments, Senator Lindsey Graham—one-third of the Holy Trinity that includes John McCain and Joltin’ Joe Lieberman—told Fox News that he’s itchin’ to slam the Haqqanis, according to The Hill:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had tough words for Pakistan, warning the nation to stop assisting the Haqqani Network in attacks on American forces in Afghanistan and urging the US to consider steps to end that threat. “We have to put all options on the table,” Graham warned on Fox News Sunday.
It is instructive to remember that there’s one diplomatic mechanism with a track record of success in Pakistan. Immediately after the attacks of 9/11, then deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage warned Pakistan’s leadership that it would be ‘bombed back into the Stone Age’ if it did not support America’s invasion of Afghanistan. That was the first—and last—time the United States received Pakistan’s full cooperation in this war…. Perhaps, at the 11th hour, the Obama administration has realized the folly of this approach and found its own Armitage moment.
Needless to say, the discovery that Pakistan supports the Haqqanis (and the Taliban) isn’t news. It’s been common knowledge for decades, going back to the 1980s, when the United States, too, supported Jalaluddin Haqqani in the US jihad against the USSR. (Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin, runs the group a generation later, though the old man is still alive and kicking.) For the United States, perhaps the last straw was the recent, stunningly high-profile attack on the US embassy in Kabul this month, but if so, there’ve been plenty of next-to-last straws for many years now, and it’s long been an open secret that Pakistan’s ISI backs the Haqqani-Taliban alliance.
Since we’re supposed to be getting out of Afghanistan, it might be a good idea to strike a deal with Pakistan, begging that country and its ISI to bring its rambunctious allies into some sort of accord before the US troops presence declines to the point where the United States has zero bargaining power at all. Bombing the Haqqani camps in Pakistan will only makes things a lot, lot worse.