U.S. and Pakistan: Sleeping with the Enemy

The game is up of fantasizing about a loyal ally.

New accusations of collaboration between Pakistan’s top spy agency and terrorist groups have cast fresh doubts over Pakistani resolve to quash Islamic insurgents. The allegations are the latest indication that America's security partnership with Pakistan is deteriorating.

Pakistan’s alleged duplicity was raised in released documents detailing American concern over Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and its links to terrorist groups. The documents show that as far back as 2007, the US military considered ISI to be one of 32 “terrorist support entities,” organizations “which al-Qaeda, the al Qaeda network or the Taliban has established working, supportive or beneficiary relationship for the achievement of common goals.”

The release of the damaging documents was preceded days earlier in a stinging attack from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he accused ISI of having close connections with the Haqqani terror network, an Afghan militant group based in the Pakistani province of North Waziristan.

According to Mullen, the Haggani -- an organization with close ties to Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents -- “is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s loyalty in the war on terror is not the only American concern. Now, Pakistan’s counterinsurgency abilities have also been called into question.  That charge came in the Obama administration’s recently released bi-annual progress report to Congress on the Afghanistan war.

The report highlighted mounting frustration with the inability of Pakistan’s military to clear insurgents from northwest Pakistan, a failure which led to the report’s grim conclusion : “As such, there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan.”

Still, despite the report’s negativity, officials defended the administration’s strategic outreach efforts with Pakistan, insisting such a policy was vital to American national security interests. As one American official stressed, “The bottom line is that joint cooperation is essential … The stakes are too high.”

That being said, a bi-partisan rejection of a continued security partnership with Pakistan may be emerging on Capitol Hill. As Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY) opined, “I doubt the (Pakistani) leaders are going to do anything except pursue their own narrow, venal self interests. I doubt the ISI will ever stop working with us during the day and going to see their not-so-secret friends in the terrorist groups at night.” For his part, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said the current relationship between the two countries was based on “wishful thinking and what I call irrational optimism.”

An example of such irrational optimism surfaced recently when Pakistan’s army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, claimed his forces had effectively “broken the backbone” of Islamic militants in Pakistan.

The truth is the Afghan-Pakistan border remains a leaking vessel by which Islamic insurgents continue to flow through. In fact, the cascade of militants has heavily increased in recent months as NATO forces in Afghanistan contend with a newly launched Taliban and al-Qaeda spring offensive.

The addition of Islamic militants into Afghanistan has also included over 1,000 suicide bombers, all trained in the Pakistani city of Quetta. In disturbing comments made by a spokesman for the Fedayeen-e-Islam -- a terrorist group based in Pakistan - - “We have three facilities exclusively for Fedayeen (suicide bombers). Each one has more than 350 men being trained in it.”

Unfortunately, the United States is also facing a growing populist Pakistani backlash over its most productive and effective counter-insurgency tool in the region: Predator drone attacks on al Qaeda, Taliban and other insurgent forces holed up in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions.

While there have been over 250 such drone attacks since 2008, the number in the last year alone has jumped to 117, more than all previous years combined. This spike in attacks has brought a corresponding assault on low-level insurgent fighters and junior commanders, not just top militant leaders. As such, over 1,500 people have been reportedly killed, a boost in deaths that has caused growing animosity among many Pakistanis.

That public anger came to full fruition when a recent US predator attack on a Haqqani group and an allied Pakistani militant outfit in North Waziristan killed 25 people. The strike drew a sharp rebuke from Pakistan’s government. That admonishment then led to Pakistani protesters organizing a government-sanctioned three day blockade of the overland roads from Pakistan’s Pesawar province into Afghanistan.

As one organizer said, they were “going to start blocking these roads to make sure that no NATO supplies get through - until the Americans categorically state that they will not violate Pakistan's sovereignty.” The situation has reached such a fever pitch that unconfirmed reports soon began to circulate that the United States had actually abandoned its key Predator drone airbase at Shamsi, Baluchistan in southern Pakistan.

Still, some maintain the Pakistani government’s current actions constitute nothing more than a continuation of its longtime wink-and-nod approach to American policy moves, one of private encouragement coupled by public condemnation

As one analyst pointed out, “The Pakistanis are masterful at creating these imbroglios which become enormous domestic issues, which they then use to try to reset the relationship with the United States more on their terms.”

However, this time around Pakistan’s actions may actually be an accurate reflection of a new policy direction. From universities to the media to security forces to political parties, Islamic extremism in Pakistani society has been on a marked rise for years. Added into the mix is a weak and corrupt ruling secular Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which has barely attempted to stem this rising tide of Islamic radicalization.

However, that radicalization has now reached unprecedented depths in 2011 with the assassinations of Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for denouncing a blasphemy law that makes it a crime to insult the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or Islam.

As one liberal Pakistani lawmaker bleakly commented on the current climate in Pakistan, “I have been advised by everyone to go home, to go into hibernation. What else can I do? Am I supposed to come out on the road and say, ‘Come on and kill me?’ They are roaming around, and our lives are under threat.”

Unfortunately, if Pakistan’s recent actions are any indication, American lives may be under equal threat as well.

Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.