As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Who Are We Fighting?

When I appear on Meet The Bloggers in a couple hours you can be sure I'm going to ask Rachel Maddow about this:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful spy service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack, the officials said, providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

This is just an extension of an earlier story about the CIA noting links between militants and the ISI, but this fills in the details. And it's absolutely frightening. I've called Pakistan the Most Dangerous Trouble Spot On Earth for the past couple years for good reason, and now to see their intelligence services act as an adjunct for the insurgency just puts a lot of this into perspective. (Of course, the Embassy bombing could also merely be an extension of the India-Pakistan cold war, using the Afghan rebels as a proxy. There have been clashes in Kashmir this week.)

Committing to a wider war in Afghanistan, where the public resists colonial efforts historically, entangles us in all sorts of regional political battles, and if you think you didn't know who your friends were in Iraq, wait until you get over there. This just has all the earmarks of a disaster. The Pakistani leadership doesn't even know how to deal with the ISI.

Some American officials have begun to suggest that Pakistan is no longer a fully reliable American partner and to advocate some unilateral American action against militants based in the tribal areas.

The ISI has long maintained ties to militant groups in the tribal areas, in part to court allies it can use to contain Afghanistan’s power. In recent years, Pakistan’s government has also been concerned about India’s growing influence inside Afghanistan, including New Delhi’s close ties to the government of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

American officials say they believe that the embassy attack was probably carried out by members of a network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose alliance with Al Qaeda and its affiliates has allowed the terrorist network to rebuild in the tribal areas.

American and Pakistani officials have now acknowledged that President Bush on Monday confronted Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, about the divided loyalties of the ISI.

Pakistan’s defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, told a Pakistani television network on Wednesday that Mr. Bush asked senior Pakistani officials this week, “ ‘Who is in control of ISI?’ ” and asked about leaked information that tipped militants to surveillance efforts by Western intelligence services.

Pakistan’s new civilian government is wrestling with these very issues, and there is concern in Washington that the civilian leaders will be unable to end a longstanding relationship between members of the ISI and militants associated with Al Qaeda.

Let's remember that the ISI was strengthened when the country was under the control of Pervez Musharraf (then chief of staff of the army with jurisdiction over the military intelligence service), who we handed over billions of dollars in "aid" money with no paper trail and no accountability for where it was sent. Thus, like Juan Cole says, that money could easily be going to kill US, NATO and Afghan troops.

Oh, and the group of militants that the ISI used to carry out this attack are Pushtun guerrillas, not actually "Taliban" in the traditional sense. The shibboleths of "Taliban" and "Al Qaeda" don't quite fit here. This is a Pakistani push for regional dominance incorporating tribes and assorted fighters.

By the way, John McCain supported Musharraf. He saw him as a strong leader, typical of most American beliefs about the need for strongmen in the developing world. As Cole notes:

Musharraf's 'successful state' involved dismissing the Supreme Court, provoking massive and repeated demonstrations, violating the constitution, interfering with free and fair elections, and presiding over a virtual national meltdown on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto late last December. McCain appears to value nothing beyond sheer military might-- even if it has shady contacts to al-Qaeda!

When the newly elected civilian government of Pakistan tried to put the ISI under the civilian Ministry of the Interior last weekend, it was quickly reversed by the generals. The US government (and the candidates) should be supporting the elected civilian government in its efforts to get control of the ISI.

This news is not about Pakistan, since most Pakistanis dislike al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is not about the elected Pakistani government. It is not even about the Pakistani military, which has fought hard battles against the Pakistani Taliban and suffered hundreds of casualties in so doing. It is about corruption in the Pakistani officer corps and the penetration of pro- al-Qaeda elements in the ISI.

And we're being sucked into this slowly, bled dry and ultimately made the fool.

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