America’s sometime ally Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world – with at least 100 nuclear missiles and a hotbed of terrorists not friendly to America. The time has come for the United States to display the tough love that tough partnerships sometimes require. Fortunately, Washington has now begun a more aggressive approach toward insurgent groups operating out of Pakistan, particularly the Haqqani network.
The Haqqani network has been attacking US soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan and is believed to be responsible for the Sept. 13 assault on the US Embassy in Kabul. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency is accused by high American officials of supporting and protecting the Haqqani network, which is closely allied with Al Qaeda.
But the Pakistani military has also cracked down on various other anti-American terrorist activities. And Pakistan serves as an important conduit for supplies to the American military campaign in Afghanistan. Still, Pakistan plays favorites with some terrorists and confronts others. Some of those terrorists would undoubtedly like to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Why should the US, which sends a great deal of aid to Pakistan, put up with this? Because it is important that Pakistan become a stable nation in the region, that none of those nukes fall into mischievous hands, and that a country that has drifted in and out of military rule now consolidates strong democratic civilian government. It would also be a positive development if that government looked more to the US for aid than to China, which has a long record of cultivating Pakistan.
But the US can’t afford to excuse Pakistan’s failings any longer. In the past, secret talks between US officials and Haqqani representatives have apparently offered no hope for less militancy, though these efforts continue. Whether the Pakistani government likes it or not, the US has now act begun to act more aggressively against a Haqqani organization that continues to target Americans. Last Thursday and Friday, targeted drone strikes against a Haqqani stronghold in North Waziristan (in a city never before targeted by US drones) killed seven insurgents.
Even though Pakistan bridles at this, the US is already quietly using drones to eliminate hostile individuals who find sanctuary along the Pakistani side of the Afghan-Pakistani border. It is difficult to see any legal or moral inhibition against using more to eliminate Haqqani leaders who have hitherto been protected by Pakistan’s double-dealing.
International law permits preventive action against an actual or potential enemy in a foreign country. After 9/11, President George W. Bush declared that the US would pursue terrorists around the globe, and even in countries that harbored them. President Obama unleashed military force to pluck Osama bin Laden from Pakistan without any permission from Pakistani authorities.
The US could also formally declare the Haqqani network a terrorist organization. This would enable the US, and like-minded allies, to hobble movement of funds, weapons, and any legal travel for that terrorist organization.
On the diplomatic front, the Obama administration should work for a stronger relationship between Pakistan and India. The two have fought wars with each other and have serious disagreements over the future of Kashmir, among other issues. But it is Pakistan’s paranoid fear of India that may in part cause Pakistan to dabble and seek influence with questionable organizations like the Haqqani network, which might be useful in any regional struggle with India (particularly regarding influence in Afghanistan).
The Obama administration could also begin a dialogue with China about Pakistan. China has wooed Pakistan in the past, and some Pakistanis reason that an alliance with China might be easier than their difficult partnership with the Americans.
But even though China has been involved in a number of new construction and trade agreements with Pakistan, it has recently curbed some, citing concerns about security. Some Chinese workers have even been killed. This could be the time for the US to convince China that both nations have an interest in a stable Pakistan.
The US should not dump Pakistan altogether, but if Pakistan will not crack down on terrorists like the Haqqani group, America has little choice but to take action against such networks itself.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.