Pakistan Reopening NATO Supply Lines, But Cooperation on Counter-Terror Efforts Doubtful

By Patrick Goodenough | July 9, 2012 | 5:02 AM EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with her Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, in Tokyo on Sunday, July 8, 2012. (AP Photo)

( – Pakistan may have agreed to reopen supply lines to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan but resolution of the seven-month dispute with the United States has brought no assurances that it will now start taking U.S. counterterrorism concerns seriously.

This became apparent over the weekend, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with her Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, on the sidelines of an Afghanistan donors’ conference in Tokyo.

After the meeting, Clinton told reporters that of the various issues discussed, “first and foremost, we focused on the necessity of defeating the terror networks that threaten the stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as interests of the United States, along with our allies and partners.”

She did not, however, indicate that there had been any encouraging response.

“I’ve said many times that this is a challenging but essential relationship. It remains so,” Clinton said. “And I have no reason to believe it will not continue to raise hard questions for us both, but it is something that I think is in the interest of the United States as well as the interest of Pakistan.”

Alleged collusion between elements in the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and militant groups fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan, has dogged the relationship with the U.S. for years.

Of particular concern is the Haqqani network, a Pashtun-led, al-Qaeda-allied Taliban faction based in the North Waziristan district of Pakistan’s tribal belt, described by NATO-led ISAF commanders in Afghanistan as one of the greatest threats faced by coalition forces.

A senior State Department official, briefing reporters on background after the Tokyo meeting, said Clinton had pressed Khar on the Haqqanis, “as she always does.”

“We want them to do more – we want them to increase the pressure on the Haqqanis,” the official said, adding that the response from Khar was “that they intend to do more.”

But asked whether last week’s agreement on reopening the ISAF supply routes – known in military jargon as ground lines of communication (GLOCs) – would do anything to secure greater counterterrorism activity by the Pakistanis, the official merely replied, “We’ll see.”

Islamabad shut the GLOCs in retaliation for the accidental killing in a U.S. airstrike of 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan-Pakistan border last November, eventually relenting last week after a negotiated statement that included the words “sorry,” “deepest regrets,” and “sincere condolences,” as well as a pledge to work “to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The State Department official said the dispute over the GLOCs had complicated relations with Pakistan over a range of areas, including counterterror cooperation.

“In many ways the fact that the GLOCs were closed was getting in the way kind of a lot of conversation with Pakistan. Now that the GLOCs are open, we have an opportunity, it seems to me, to go back into kind of business with them, and counterterrorism is one of those areas.”

U.S. unhappiness about Pakistani complicity with terror groups goes back long before the tensions triggered by last November’s airstrike. A report by a Harvard University researcher in 2010, based on interviews with Taliban commanders and former Taliban ministers and officials, charged that ISI provides significant support and sanctuary to the Haqqani network.

The report cited Haqqani commanders describing very close relations between the network and the ISI, ranging from training at small bases “staffed by serving or former Pakistani military officials” to the payment of salaries and the provision of weapons including grenades and improvised explosive devices. The ISI was even represented on the Haqqani command council, they said.

Long before the 2010 report was published, analysts in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and elsewhere ascribed Islamabad’s reluctance to comply with U.S. requests for stronger action against the militants to the ISI ties to the network. From a strategic point of view, Islamabad wants to ensure that whatever regime emerges in Kabul after the ISAF withdrawal is friendly and in line with what it sees as its broader regional interests.

The U.S. is hoping that Pakistan will use its influence with elements in Afghanistan to persuade militants to stop fighting and seek a negotiated settlement.

Clinton and Khar held a three-way meeting in Tokyo later Sunday with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul, and in a joint statement afterwards the three said, “we reiterate our call for the armed opposition to abandon violence and enter a dialogue with the Afghan government.”

Indian concerns, FTO designation delays

Pakistan habitually denies claims of collusion with Haqqani, as it denies assertions about similar ISI and military links to the mainstream Taliban – which the ISI helped to set up in the early 1990s – as well as to jihadi groups established with ISI support to fight Indian rule in disputed Kashmir, such as Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT).

LeT has widened its scope beyond Kashmir, and has also become active against coalition forces in Afghanistan. It declared “jihad” on America, and a top U.S. military officer last year called it a “global threat.”

Also meeting with Khar on the sidelines of the Tokyo donors’ conference was Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who urged the Pakistanis – again – to take action against those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

India has provided Pakistan with what it says is additional proof that LeT carried out the 60-hour assault, which cost the lives of 166 people, including six Americans.

Washington designated LeT a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in late 2001 and the State Department last April announced a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed in connected with the Mumbai attacks. The radical cleric, who denies any involvement, continues to appear in public and took part in a rally Sunday to protest the GLOC reopening.

Although individual Haqqani leaders have been listed by the U.S. Treasury Department as “specially designated global terrorists” the administration has yet to designate the network itself as an FTO, despite the urging of lawmakers for more than two years.

In late June, senior House Republicans sought to apply new pressure, introducing a bill calling on the administration to designate Haqqani as an FTO, a move that would cut the flow of funds and resources to the group and make it unlawful to provide it with material support.

H.R. 6036 was authored by House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (Mich.) and co-sponsored by House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.).

“The Haqqanis are responsible for killing hundreds of our troops, and their indiscriminate attacks have also murdered countless innocent Afghan men, women, and children,” Rogers said in a statement on June 27.

The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House on May 18, seeks to limit U.S. funding to Pakistan until the Secretary of Defense certifies that Islamabad is “committed” to steps including support for counter-terror operations against Haqqani, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations

The Republican Study Committee – the U.S. House conservative caucus – in a May 29 policy briefing recommended stricter requirements, including “a certification process that Pakistan is confronting terrorism including within its own ranks (ISI)” and “tangible actions against the Haqqani network.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow