Ex-Pakistani Ambassador: My Country Supports Terrorism

Jeffrey Goldberg is a columnist for Bloomberg View writing about the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy and national affairs. He is a national correspondent for the Atlantic, the author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror" and a winner of the National Magazine Award for reporting. He has also covered the Middle East as a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Read More.
a | A

When Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif , visits the White House tomorrow, he may find President Barack Obama on the defensive. A new report from Amnesty International alleges that some U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan may amount to war crimes.

But Obama could respond to Sharif by citing another report, this one in the form a soon-to-be-released book by Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani , who states plainly that his government sponsors the terrorist groups whose members are often the targets of American drones.

In the book, "Magnificent Delusions," Haqqani says: "My countrymen will someday have to come to terms with global realities. Pakistan cannot become a regional leader in South Asia while it supports terrorism."

It's highly unusual to have a former ambassador -- one who spent years in Washington defending his government against all sorts of accusations (Haqqani served in the U.S. from 2008 to 2011, a period in which Osama bin Laden was killed while hiding in Pakistan) -- plainly admit the truth: that his government, through its army and intelligence agencies, aids and abets the murder of civilians by terrorist organizations.

U.S. officials (and officials of numerous foreign intelligence agencies) have long believed that Pakistani intelligence provides material support to terrorist groups , but Haqqani may be the most prominent Pakistani to publicly agree with them.

Haqqani, though, has long been a rare sort of Pakistani public figure. He is a long-time critic of the country's military, which is the real power behind the civilians who nominally rule, and his tenure as ambassador ended when his enemies accused him of plotting against the armed forces. He now lives in a semi-self-imposed exile in the U.S.

Pakistan and the U.S., which have had a contentious relationship for decades (the history of this relationship is the main subject of Haqqani's new book), have lately tried to smooth over their differences. Secretary of State John Kerry , in particular, seems keen to reinforce the view that Pakistan is an invaluable ally, and the U.S. recently decided to release about $1.6 billion in aid that was suspended in the difficult days after bin Laden's killing.

But it certainly would be useful for the Obama administration to press Sharif hard on his country's support for several terrorist groups, including those behind the killings of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the Mumbai massacre of 2008. The group backing that slaughter, Lashkar-e-Taiba, continues to openly operate in Pakistan. Its founder, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed , has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, but this doesn't stop him from ranging freely and speaking publicly.

The support given to Lashkar-e-Taiba by the Pakistani intelligence agency -- the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI -- serves as a case study for Haqqani. After the Mumbai massacre, Haqqani writes, Pakistan "initially denied any connection to the attack. Instead of trying to identify and punish terrorists, Pakistan focused on refuting reports of Pakistani complicity."

He says that the attack, which came in the final months of George W. Bush 's presidency, lost Pakistan whatever official sympathy it previously had in Washington. No matter: Washington soon forgets, and Pakistan's military leaders can safely assume that they will pay no long-term price for supporting terrorism, Haqqani writes.

Soon after the bin Laden raid, the U.S. made an effort to test Pakistan's willingness to combat terrorism. Haqqani writes that two senior American officials visited Islamabad to propose a series of steps Pakistan could take to build confidence. They provided Pakistan with information about a bomb-making factory run by the Haqqani Network. (The Haqqanis of the Haqqani Network, a terrorist group, are not related to Husain Haqqani.)

Pakistan's military leaders "promised that the Pakistan army would send in troops to shut down the illicit factory that was manufacturing the IEDs," Haqqani writes. "A few days later the CIA sent time-stamped photographs showing the facility being dismantled hours before the army's arrival. The dismantling began after a man on a motorcycle went into the factory, thus leading to speculation that he had come to tip off the terrorists about the impending army operation."

He goes on, "The Americans concluded that Pakistan's failure to combat terrorism went beyond its law enforcement agencies' and armed forces' incompetence."

The Pakistani government's pattern in these matters is so predictable that Haqqani, in a telephone interview with me, called it the "Groundhog Day approach."

"Every time the U.S. makes a reasonable request that would prove Pakistan's bona fides in fighting terrorism, our response was to raise the temperature of anti-American sentiment through the media, to provoke hostility," he told me. "The American folly is that they always think the Pakistani government is going to respond reasonably."

Until Lashkar-e-Taiba is shut down, and until its leader is in prison, there is no reason to believe that Pakistan is willing to turn a new page in its relations with the U.S., or anyone else.

(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jeffrey Goldberg at goldberg.atlantic@gmail.com