Tag Archives: Admiral Mullen

Is Pakistan at war with the United States?

That’s the alarming headline of a blog post by Walter Russell Mead, James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest. The impetus for Mead’s question is the recent allegation that links exist between Pakistan’s government and the Haqqani network of militants in North Waziristan that is believed to be responsible for attacks on American soliders in Afghanistan. But Mead’s concerns are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the way Pakistan’s government operates, and his conclusion, founded in this misunderstanding, recommends a self-defeating policy for anyone that wants to promote democracy and justice in Pakistan.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter said over the weekend that “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government.” But we must take care when discussing “the Pakistani government” not to fall into the trap of mirror-imaging, assuming the Pakistani “government” operates in the same cohesive manner that the US government does.

Ambassador Munter’s statements alleging official support for the Haqqani network refer to evidence against the ISI – not the civilian leadership.

[Admiral] Mullen believes that “elements” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI, “directly support” the Haqqani network, Kirby said.

The Haqqani network is aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda and is considered one the most significant threats to stability in Afghanistan. U.S. officials believe Haqqani operatives are moving unfettered across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are responsible for several recent high-profile attacks in Kabul, including this week’s assault.

In late April, Mullen said on Pakistan’s Geo TV that the ISI has a “long-standing relationship” with the Haqqani network.

Confusion arises because Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

The most recent example of the ISI operating outside the oversight of the civilian government could be seen on the pages of the Wall Street Journal this past 9/11. A half-page ad asked, “Which country can do more for your peace?” and included statistics about the losses Pakistan has suffered in the war on terrorism. While the bottom of the ad said, “Government of Pakistan,” the Journal’s South Asia reporter, Tom Wright, found that the ad was not approved through the regular government channels.

Pakistani media blog Cafe Pyala called their own sources and found evidence that the ad was a politically tone-deaf attempt by the ISI to influence American opinion.

Well, our sources inform us that the problem about the source of the ad arose because neither the Pakistan Embassy in Washington nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) nor the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoI&B) were the sources of the ad. In fact, our sources confirm that none of these three Pakistani government entities was even consulted about the ad. In fact, the ad, designed by the Pakistani advertising agency Midas, was placed directly from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Why, you might ask, would the Prime Minister’s Secretariat bypass its own subordinate media departments and its representatives who are specifically tasked with international relations work? Could it be, as our sources indicate, that the advertisement was the first instance of the country’s premier intelligence agency directly placing an advertisement in a foreign publication?

Nor is this the first time that the ISI has made an end run around the civilian leadership in Pakistan. Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

Walter Read says he supports a continued US-Pakistan relationship, “but in our view the US has to be ready to walk away for the relationship to have a chance.” We suggest that walking away is the wrong prescription.

The Pakistani government is fighting multiple wars, but none is against the United States. The primary war, the one that has claimed the lives of 30,000 Pakistanis, is against Taliban militants who will go so far as to attack a bus filled with school children. The other war is for Pakistan’s soul, and is being waged quietly behind the scenes as democratically oriented civilian leaders struggle to wrest control of the nation from undemocratic forces leftover from previous dictatorships. Walking away from the democratic civilian leaders will only strengthen the undemocratic forces in Pakistan. It’s a mistake the US has made in the past, and one that it should be careful not to repeat.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

Adm. Mullen’s Pakistan Red Herring

Admiral Mullen

Admiral Mullen made headlines yesterday when he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that, the murder of a Pakistani journalist “was sanctioned by the government.” For those suspicious of Pakistan, these words reinforced previously held beliefs. Ironically, however, the institution that most gained from Adm. Mullen’s statement was the one suspected of responsibility for the journalists death – Pakistan’s ISI.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the White House has obtained classified information implicating Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in the murder.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The involvement of the ISI has been suspected ever since Saleem Shahzad’s body was discovered. Human Rights Watch released copies of emails sent from the murdered journalist prior to his death. Shahzad sent the emails, “in case something happens to me or my family in future.” These emails detail conversations between Shahzad and ISI officials unhappy with his reporting on extremist infiltration in Pakistan’s military.

But rather than mention the ISI in his remarks, Admiral Mullen laid the blame on “the government,” leaving many Americans to incorrectly assume that the murder of Saleem Shahzad was carried out under the direction of the civilian leadership.

“It was sanctioned by the government,” Admiral Mullen told journalists during a Pentagon briefing. “I have not seen anything to disabuse the report that the government knew about this.”

Americans tend to think of intelligence agencies as working at the behest and under the oversight of their respective governments, as if all nations operate in a post-Church Committee environment. But the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ISI is quite different. In fact, in many ways the ISI operates not just independently of civilian oversight, but often in opposition to it.

Shortly after Pakistan’s civilian government took power in 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani announced that control of the ISI would be shifted to the portfolio of the civilian Interior Ministry. It was only a matter of hours before Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the media that no such change would occur. The civilians promptly retracted the announcement.

The government’s backtracking has prompted plenty of comment among politicians and in the Pakistan media.

An ex-army officer and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, told the Dawn News TV channel that the government retracted its decision when the army “showed its teeth”.

Formally, the ISI currently reports to the prime minister. But many observers believe it is answerable to no one.

This split between the democratically-elected civilian government and Pakistan’s spy agency was shown in stark relief during the Raymond Davis fiasco. Writing for the English-language newspaper Dawn, Pakistani analyst Cyril Almeida noted that when push comes to shove, it’s not the civilians who hold the upper hand in matters that concern the ISI.

When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first.

It may seem counterintuitive to speak of Pakistan’s government and intelligence agencies as separate institutions, but the distinction matters. Pakistan’s civilian leadership – though weak – is trying to implement democratic reforms; and those efforts are often held back by unaccountable military and intelligence officials who are loath to cede their power to civilians. Rather than paint all institutions with the same broad brush, US officials should seek to strengthen civilian democratic institutions so that they can effectively reign in those parts of the military and intelligence services that are acting outside of civilian oversight.

Saleem Shahzad died trying to expose extremist influence in Pakistan’s security services. His death does not have to be in vain. At present, a Pakistani judicial commission is investigating the circumstances of Mr. Shahzad’s death; the next meeting is scheduled to be held in Islamabad on July 9th.

“The government” of Pakistan is a red herring in Shahzad’s murder. Though likely unintended, Adm. Mullen’s statement yesterday shifts focus away from those responsible. Rather than issue statements that can undermine the authority of the civilian government, US officials should present any evidence about the circumstances of Shahzad’s death to the commission and publicly support efforts by the civilian government to bring the ISI under the oversight of publicly accountable civilian leaders.

US Should Focus on Pakistan’s Civilian Leadership

Asif Zardari meeting with Barack Obama

This week’s visit to Pakistan by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and the resulting public statements about cooperation in the fight against militant groups along Pakistan’s Western border has once again highlighted the extent to which US-Pakistan relations continue to focus on military-to-military dialogue. While close military cooperation against extremist groups requires military-to-military dialogue, the US must be careful not to weaken the authority of Pakistan’s civilian government by ignoring Pakistan’s civilian leadership.

An essay by Aqil Shah in the May/June 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs, “Getting the Military Out of Pakistani Politics” makes a strong case that the US should make a concerted effort to further shift its negotiations with Pakistan from a military-to-military model to one that focuses on strengthening the authority of the civilian government.

Pakistan is unlikely to collapse, but the imbalance of power between its civilian and military branches needs to be addressed if it is to become a normal modern state that is capable of effectively governing its territory. For its part, the United States must resist using the generals as shortcuts to stability, demonstrate patience with Pakistan’s civilian authorities, and help them consolidate their hold on power.

Where too many analysts express frustration with a perceived slow pace of reforms being implemented Pakistan’s civilian government, Aqil Shah prescribes patience.

If the “third wave” of democratization in the 1970s and 1980s had any lesson, it is that democracy does not necessarily require natural-born democrats or a mythically selfless political leadership. In fact, a strong democratic system can mitigate the baser instincts of politicians. If anything, the experience of countries such as Chile, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand in the last few decades shows that the strength and quality of democracy may be linked to the stability of the party system. This is good news for Pakistan.

The author even takes the counterintuitive, but plausible position that the family dominance of Pakistan’s major political parties may actually be a positive.

It is true that Pakistan’s civilian politics is dominated by a few families, namely the Bhuttos, who control the PPP, and the Sharifs, who control the PML-N. In a perverse way, however, the hold of the Bhuttos and the Sharifs on their parties may be one of the main reasons that these parties have survived the military’s divide-and-rule repression and may consolidate democracy in the future.

While political parties should aspire to increased internal democratization, US analysts should consider the role powerful families have played in strengthening our own party system. Pakistan’s politics may be dominated by Bhuttos and Sharifs, but America too has seen its share of Adamses, Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Bushes and, arguably, grown stronger for them.

The notion that military interventions weaken the country’s democratic institutions has even been put forth by Pakistan’s famously adversarial judiciary. Recently, Pakistan’s Chief Justice addressed the long-term effects of military intervention on democratic development.

“When there are political crises, we have witnessed military intervention followed by military rule. Thus, there emerged a vicious circle of brief political dispensation followed by prolonged military rule. This state of affairs brought many setbacks and hampered the process of evolution of constitutionalism and democratic system of governance.”

In spite of the myriad obstacles thrown into Pakistan’s path to democratic modernization – coups, wars, poverty, natural disasters, and terrorism – the Pakistani people have consistently demanded to choose their own leaders and decide their own future. Though the democratically elected civilian government faces a number of challenges both internal and external, it remains resilient.

Today the government continues to work with opposition parties to strengthen the democratic process and address important issues by building coalitions across political parties and working towards consensus solutions. The US should encourage this resilience by acknowledging the centrality of Pakistan’s civilian government in its government-to-government negotiations and providing the space necessary for democratization to firmly take root.

 

What's Really Going On In Pakistan?

The headlines about Pakistan lately have been unpleasant. Between tensions over a botched air strike, Bob Woodward’s new book, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that he’s returning to the country – a lot of people are wondering if change is afoot. But media headlines notwithstanding, there’s a lot of reason to believe that Pakistan will not undergo another sudden extra-constitutional change.

Continue reading