By Anwar Iqbal
Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the Pakistanis have a point when they say that Pakistan alone did not create the Haqqani network, which is now killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Also on Sunday, the former US military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, said that attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan had caused him to blame Pakistan for backing the militants who were behind those attacks.
The transcript of a Q & A session, released by the State Department, quoted Secretary Clinton as saying that the US relationship with Pakistan was critical to the ongoing stability and peace of the region, as well as the fight against terrorism.
“And I think it is important to remind ourselves that Pakistanis have paid a much greater price in the war against terrorism and in the violence perpetrated on them over the last 10 years than, thankfully, we have,” she noted.
“Nearly 30,000 people have been killed — civilians and military, scores of bombing attacks all over the country in places from mosques to markets to universities to police stations.”
Referring to Admiral Mullen’s Senate testimony last week in which he blamed the ISI for encouraging the Haqqani network for attacking US targets in Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton emphasised the need to look at the issue from a historical perspective.
“If you go on YouTube, you can see Sirajuddin Haqqani with President Reagan at the White House,” said the top US diplomat, noting that in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the US government, through the CIA, funded Jihadis like the Haqqanis “to cross the border or to, within Afghanistan, be part of the fight to drive the Soviets out and bring down the Soviet Union”.
“So when I meet for many hours, as I do, with Pakistani officials, they rightly say, ‘You’re the ones who told us to cooperate with these people. You’re the one who funded them. You’re the ones who equipped them. You’re the ones who used them to bring down the Soviet Union by driving them out of Afghanistan. And we are now both in a situation that is highly complex and difficult to extricate ourselves from’. That is how they see it.” The Pakistanis, however, also have used groups in the past to support their ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir, she added.
Secretary Clinton said that when she took charge of her office, the Pakistanis were also trying to basically appease the Pakistani Taliban who were attacking them — trying to draw a distinction between the good terrorists and the bad terrorists.
Since then, the US had been trying to convince the Pakistanis that it was not in their interest to permit terrorists to take over territory and succeeded in encouraging them to deploy troops in Fata.
“So I think it’s important that we appreciate their perspective about where we both are right now,” the secretary said.
“That in no way excuses the fact that they are making a serious, grievous, strategic error supporting these groups,” she added.
That’s why, she said, the US was “pressing and pushing on every lever that we have in the relationship” to achieve its strategic goals.
The aim was to prevent any attacks against the US emanating from Pakistan, as well as to try to help stabilise Pakistan against this internal threat, and to create the best possible circumstances for Afghanistan to be able to have control over its own future.
“Those are all extremely difficult, and we are learning it, each piece of that, every single day,” she said.
In an interview to CNN, Admiral Mullen said what made him go public with his grievances against Pakistan was an increase in attacks on US soldiers and other targets inside Afghanistan. “It’s not just about one country, it’s about both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and part of the biggest challenge is the safe havens that the insurgents enjoy in Pakistan,” he said. The admiral defined the Haqqani network as the most virulent terrorist group in Pakistan and a great supporter of Al Qaeda.
“The link between the Pakistan military and specifically the ISI is very well-known. And I have argued for the need to sever this link,” he added. “That also has to do with getting control of that safe haven.”
Admiral Mullen said that the intensity of the recent events and the strategic support that the ISI and the Pakistan military “both give to the Haqqani network directly and indirectly, is what I was focused on” in the Senate testimony.
When the interviewer insisted on knowing the real reason for the admiral to go public with his complaints against Pakistan, Mr Mullen said: “As a military leader and as somebody who feels responsible for the 2.2 million men and women in uniform, the effort or actions on the part of the Haqqani network to literally kill my people is something I just can’t tolerate anymore.”
He said he did not expect it to stop overnight but “a concerted effort on the part of responsible people could have a big impact”.