It's time for the Pakistanis to pick a side.
On November 26, 2008, Alan Scherr, a former art professor from Virginia, and his daughter Naomi, were having a late dinner in the caf? at the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India. They were near the end of a once in a lifetime spiritual experience, a two-week trip to India as part of a meditation group called Synchronicity.
Without warning, members of a Pakistani terrorist group burst into the dining room and began shooting. Scherr was executed with a bullet to the head in front of his daughter. She was killed moments later in the same fashion. Scherr's wife, Kia and his two sons, learned of the deaths days after Indian forces retook the hotel from the terrorists and the bodies of Scherr and Naomi were identified.
On December 30, 2009 CIA personnel assigned to Khost base on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border gathered to meet with a high profile source they believed would provide valuable information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. The asset, a double agent, detonated a suicide vest he was wearing shortly after being brought inside the base in a vehicle. The explosion killed six Americans and wounded seven others, among them good friends and colleagues of mine.
Eight Americans dead. All killed by terrorists. All with one other thing in common. All victims of attacks by terrorist organizations, which are connected to and supported by the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), an official arm of the Pakistani government.
In the case of Mumbai, the attacks were carried out by a group called Lashkar e Taiba (LeT). Originally, formed to organize resistance to the Indian occupation of the disputed area of Kashmir, LeT has expanded its reach well beyond the borders of that region. Its objective is to introduce an Islamic state throughout all of South Asia. It considers Hindus and Jews to be enemies of Islam and calls openly for their total annihilation. By virtue of its perceived support for India and Israel, the United States and its citizens are also considered enemies.
Among the many attacks carried out by LeT are:
- Bombings in Delhi which killed 60 and wounded 527 in 2005
- Bombings in Varanasi which killed 37 and wounded 89 in 2006
- Bombings on trains in Mumbai which killed 211 and wounded over 1000 in 2006
LeT receives extensive support and guidance from the ISI. The investigation into the activities of David Coleman Headley, an American citizen who did much of the casing in advance of the Mumbai attacks for LeT, has provided a unique window into just how tight the ISI- LeT connection is. During his testimony in the trial of one of his accomplices, Tahawwur Rana, in Chicago, Headley produced graphic evidence detailing how Pakistani intelligence officers funded, supported and directed the 2008 Mumbai attacks and had direct input into the choice of targets specifically chosen because of the presence of Westerners.
In the case of Khost, the attacks were carried out by the Haqqani network, whose origins lie in the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980's. In the 1990's, the ISI recruited the Haqqani network to provide support to the Taliban and assist in the fight to establish an Islamic fundamentalist regime. The relationship between the ISI and the Haqqani network has persisted to this day, even as the targets of Haqqani attacks have increasingly become American. The ISI protects and finances Haqqani's activities, and provides it sanctuary in Haqqani's hometown of Miram Shah in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The ISI also warns the Haqqani network of impending American drone attacks.
While receiving this support from the Pakistani government, the Haqqani network has been responsible for a wide range of actions including:
- The attacks against the U.S. Embassy and NATO Headquarters in Kabul in September 2011 in which 16 were killed
- The attack on Combat Post Sayed Abad in September 2011 in which 77 US servicemen and 17 Afghan civilians were injured.
- The attack on the Hotel-Intercontinental Kabul in June 2011 in which 12 were killed
- The attack on the Kabul Bank in February 2011 in which 40 were killed.
- The bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 in which 41 were killed.
American officials have long been aware of the connections between the Pakistani government and terrorist organizations such as LeT and the Haqqani network. Admiral Mike Mullen's recent comments about the Haqqani network in which he described that organization as a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani government have attracted attention because of their frankness, but Mullen was only giving public voice to something that the US Government has known for a very long time.
The Pakistanis use both the Haqqani network and LeT as proxies through which elements of the Pakistani state pursue their strategic interests and seek military and political influence in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. While the United States sees events in the region as centered on the struggle against terrorism and Islamic extremism, Pakistan focuses on its long term, strategic contest with India and preventing Afghanistan from becoming part of an anti-Pakistani alliance. The Haqqani network attack on the Indian Embassy is the classic example of the Pakistanis use of that group against the Indian government.
That the United States has until now chosen to avoid a direct confrontation with the Pakistani Government regarding its support for terrorism is a measure of how complex the situation in South Asia is. At the same time we wish the Pakistanis to confront Islamic extremism more directly we also depend on them for large measures of critical support. We want their military to step up offensive action in the tribal areas along the border. We know that pushing the Pakistanis away or curtailing aid may simply drive them into the arms of other powers, such as the Chinese and the Iranians. Last but not least, we move a very large portion of the supplies for our troops in Afghanistan across Pakistani territory.
That the situation is difficult and complex, however, does not mean that it is impossible to see what has to be done. Life is filled with junctures at which the way ahead is painful but the choices to be made are crystal clear. This is one of those. What we as a nation need to do is transparently obvious.
American citizens are being targeted and killed. They are being murdered by Islamic radicals connected to, supported by and, in some cases, directed by officials of the Pakistani Government. We as Americans do not ignore the actions of other nations against our fellow Americans. We do not pretend that such actions are not happening. We most assuredly do not reward the individuals behind such crimes by providing them with support and calling them allies.
We provide the Pakistanis with roughly 3.5 billion dollars a year in aid. Since 2001 we have given them over 20 billion dollars. Payments to Pakistan need to cease immediately, and their resumption needs to be conditioned not on empty promises but on concrete action against the Haqqani network, LeT and similar groups.
We need to immediately designate the Haqqanii network as a terrorist organization. We have avoided taking that action for far too long and only because of crass political concerns. A group that attacks our military personnel, our intelligence officers, Western hotels and our embassy is a terrorist group, and we ought to have the backbone to say so out loud.
We should inform the Pakistanis that effective immediately we will take whatever action we deem necessary against Pakistani terrorist groups like the Haqqanis, and that we will strike wherever and whenever we decide necessary. The Pakistanis will understand that this is a clear reference to the use of Pakistani territory as a safehaven for attacks on US personnel in Afghanistan, and that is the intent. The choice presented needs to be explicit, either the Pakistanis can take care of the problem or we will do it for them.
The consequences of the actions outlined above will likely be substantial. At a minimum, we will need to identify alternative means for moving supplies to our troops in Afghanistan that do not rely upon Pakistani help. The consequences of not taking these actions are equally substantial. We will continue to watch while American citizens die, and we will continue to do nothing about it.
We have tried doing the diplomatic thing. We have tried doing the safe, prudent, indecisive thing. Now it's time to do what we should have done a long time ago. It's time to do the right thing.