Writing in The New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador of the United States to Afghanistan has claimed “President Trump deserves high marks for his new Afghanistan strategy. It is bold, reasoned and offers the prospect of success against the violent Islamist groups of the region. But it will also face opposition in the region.”
Khalilzad had several issues with Pakistan during his tenure as ambassador, the primary being the “sanctuaries” Pakistan afforded to the Haqqani Network. He has accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” multiple times since 2004. Today, in 2017, President Trump and his generals repeat the same charge and Khalilzad agrees. Pakistan denies there are any “safe havens” on Pakistani territory and asserts that the Haqqani Network is no longer located here. General Nicholson, commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, has further muddied the waters by referring to Quetta and Peshawar “shuras” of the Afghan Taliban, a dated reference that is no longer relevant.
The best way out of this situation is to cooperate in proving or disproving Pakistan’s claim about the safe havens. Pakistanis know that the Haqqanis are strong and influential—as former General Amjad Shoaib recently revealed in a TV chat show—because of their family connections, through marriage, with the Dubai aristocracy allowing them leverage and lots of Arab funds. Pakistan has to collaborate with the outside world to conclusively prove that the safe havens have been destroyed under two cleansing operations: Zarb-e-Azb and Radd ul-Fassad.
Ambassador Khalilzad’s assertion in The New York Times is understandable because President Trump has finally accepted the line that Secretary of State Colin Powell under President Bush had rejected out of hand: the presence of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan’s tribal areas. According to Khalilzad’s book The Envoy, the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad was equally opposed to his charge. “At one point, Ambassador Nancy Powell and I sent dueling cables to Washington. I pointed to intelligence suggesting that Pakistani military was playing a double game, tracking down certain Al Qaeda operatives while aiding and abetting the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hezb-e-Islami.”
But Ambassador Powell was quite adamant: “Powell countered that Pakistan was a trusted partner and was contributing more than was generally recognized. In her view, Islamabad could not control everything that took place in the ungoverned areas bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani military had sent forces into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where some of the insurgents were operating. The United States needed to give Pakistan more support so the military could better secure those areas.” Later, Secretary of State Colin Powell too backed Ambassador Powell: “He waved off my point and asked me not to make such comments in public.”
What is required now is cooperation, not clash. Chief of the Madrassa Haqqania—where the head of the Haqqani Network was educated near Peshawar—Maulana Samiul Haq asserts that Pakistan “will never take any action against Haqqani Network.” He does not speak for the government, but his words echo what many in the world believe is official policy in Islamabad. It’s time for Pakistan to change this.