Why is Pakistan, in particular the ISI, willing to risk its relations with the US and worsen its already tarred international image by continuing the linkages with the Haqqani network? Is supporting the Haqqani network more important for Pakistan than US-Pak relations and the ensuing American aid? What can be the possible explanations for such a behaviour exhibited by Pakistan?
Explanation 1: Why blame only Pakistan?
Gen. Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff, recently responded to Admiral Mullen’s testimony accusing the ISI for using the Haqqani network as its “proxy” and a “veritable arm.” He said - “Admiral Mullen knows fully well which all countries are in contact with the Haqqanis. Singling out Pakistan is neither fair nor productive.” The CIA is concomitantly engaging the Haqqani network as a part of its efforts to find the “moderate Taliban” with whom the US and the rest of international community can reach an understanding on power sharing after 2014? So, Islamabad may rightly justify, why blame only Pakistan, when everyone is playing a double game in dealing with the Haqqanis? The Pakistanis also feel that perhaps everyone is in touch with the Haqqanis, including the Americans, so blaming Islamabad alone for doing so is unfair.
What Islamabad fails to understand is that while there may be many other actors who are willing to negotiate with the Haqqanis, none of them is providing either safe havens or using them as proxies in their gameplan. Neither are they making the Afghans and the international troops a target.
Explanation 2: Did not realize you will call my bluff
Also, Pakistan, especially its ISI elements, has always been playing a double game in dealing with the multiple Taliban groups. So far, Afghanistan and the US have pretended to ignore this double game considering their larger interests in Pakistan, although making some accusations ostensibly. More prominently so as the US believes that support from Pakistan is essential for the American war efforts; Pakistan remains the primary artery for taking war and aid materials through sea and land into Afghanistan.
While Afghanistan also has multiple complaints against Pakistan, including the Haqqani network, it has come to terms with the reality that it has no option but to work with Islamabad. In the last two years, there have been significant agreements signed between Pakistan and Afghanistan including one on transit and trade (excluding India). The recently concluded Dushanbe summit and the agreement on a gas corridor from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan are other major bilateral developments between the two countries.
India, Afghanistan, Russia, US and now even China (at least the Xinjiang government) have been accusing Pakistan of supporting militant groups. Neither is the ISI new to the accusation that it has been supporting militant groups and using them as proxies. But, perhaps Pakistan did not expect that its bluff would ever be called off. So it is now becoming increasingly defensive.
Explanation 3: Strategic Interests outweigh the Costs?
Three primary strategic interests explain Pakistan’s behavior in Afghanistan. First, a friendly government in Kabul, which is actually a euphemism for a proxy in Afghanistan, playing by Islamabad’s rule will be to Pakistan’s advantage. Pakistan is afraid to have any another country, which is believed to be hostile to its interests to develop close links with Afghanistan. As Pakistan does not share a good relationship with India on its eastern side, it does not want yet another hostile neighbour. The fact that the Durand Line between the two countries is not fully settled and agreed upon by successive Afghan governments (including that of the Taliban’s) only increases Pakistan’s anxiety.
Second, Pakistan does not want any Indian foot print in Afghanistan. Preventing Afghanistan from developing any substantial relationship with India is a primary objective. Widely referred and explained (and now refuted) as the “strategic depth”, this objective is based on the premise that a friendly government in Afghanistan would help Pakistan to restrict India.
Finally, the “pashtun” factor across the Durand line is an important strategic calculation for Pakistan. Despite the last six decades, a section within Pakistan even today fears a pashtun nationalism cutting across the Durand line. The pasthun communities across the Durand can be considered as Siamese twins given their historical linkages.
Perhaps, the strategic elite and the ISI in particular consider the Haqqani network (and the Quetta Shura) as Pakistan’s strategic tool to achieve their larger interests in Afghanistan. If there are any hidden costs to achieve the above interests, then so be it.
Explanation 4: Who are the Haqqanis? Strategic Depth – Total Nonsense
Perhaps, Pakistan as a state and as a nation lives and thrives in self-denial. Does a substantial section within Pakistan not believe the al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden as American inventions and Mumbai attacks as a handiwork of the Indian intelligence agencies? In fact, many within Pakistan believe today that Osama bin Laden may not have been shot dead within Pakistan and if the al Qaeda truly have a thriving network?
In their refusal to accept the reality, the majority seems to believe there is a global conspiracy against Pakistan, led by the US, India and perhaps even Israel. So who are the Haqqanis? Are they not American agents supporting the TTP to destroy Pakistan? Welcome to Pakistan; self-denial is a national ideology here.