By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.
Admiral Mike Mullen’s blunt declaration on Thursday that a Taliban faction known as the Haqqani network acts as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency is a welcome shift in U.S. policy. After a decade of privately cajoling the Pakistani military to stop its disastrous policy of sheltering the Afghan Taliban, the United States is publicly airing the truth.
Pakistan’s top military spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), supported the Haqqanis as they carried out an attack on the American embassy last week, Mullen said during Congressional testimony. Last year, they arrested a Taliban leader who engaged in peace talks without their permission, according to American officials. And many Afghans suspect ISI involvement in the assassination this week of the head of Afghan peace talks that did not involve Pakistan.
The airing of the ISI’s links to the Haqqanis is long overdue. To me, the ISI is a cancer on Pakistan. It is vital, though, that American officials punish the Pakistani military–not all Pakistanis–for the ISI’s actions.
Dominated by hard-line ultra-nationalists obsessed with defeating archrival India, the ISI has killed Pakistani journalists who openly criticize it, harassed human rights activists and undermined efforts to establish democracy. A shadow government unaccountable to the country’s weak civilian government, the ISI is widely feared by Pakistanis.
The agency is dominated by military officers wedded to a paranoid, antiquated and dangerous mindset the C.I.A. helped foment during the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad, according to American and Pakistani officials. More ultranationalists than jihadists, ISI officers believe they are the true guardians of Pakistan. To them, the U. S. is an untrustworthy and dissolute nation that is in rapid decline. India is Pakistan’s primary threat. And militants are proxies that can be controlled.