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Reader’s Guide: Pakistan’s Terror Ties and the Shifting Relations Between Pakistan and the U.S.

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Pakistani military and police officials cordon off a street beside al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's final hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 8, 2011. The U.S. raid that ended in bin Laden's death put the spotlight on U.S.-Pakistani relations. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

Since 9/11, the United States has touted Pakistan as a “key ally” in the fight against terrorism, even though we’ve long suspected that some elements of the Pakistani government are working with the terrorist groups they claim to be fighting. The relationship became even more strained after the United States discovered that Osama bin Laden was hiding in a town populated by Pakistan’s military elite, not far from the nation’s top military academy.

Where do we stand with Pakistan right now?

The location of bin Laden’s hideout has raised questions about whether the government knew of his whereabouts, though officials have denied for years that bin Laden was in Pakistan. (For more on this, see our bin Laden reading guide.) Still, the United States has been trying to smooth out things with Pakistan since the raid.

Pakistani officials have criticized the raid as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, and the military said it would rethink cooperating with the United States if there are any more unilateral attacks. The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it is complying with Pakistani officials’ request to scale back the U.S. military presence there.

In return, the United States is calling on Pakistan to step up its game in fighting terrorism. According to CNN, the State Department’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan met with civilian and military leaders last week to demand more concrete action:

“Specifically, the United States is looking for Pakistan to demonstrate a willingness to go after senior al Qaeda targets, take action against factories producing improvised explosive devices for use against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and support Taliban reconciliation,” CNN reported.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a surprise visit to Islamabad Friday morning to work out the details of the U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan after bin Laden’s death. She said that the United States is expecting Pakistan to take “decisive steps” in its fight against terrorism over the coming days.

Her visit comes after Pakistan agreed to let the CIA send a forensics team to examine the bin Laden compound more closely.

What's the situation with U.S. aid to Pakistan today?

The United States has provided $20.7 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2002, $14.2 billion of which has gone to Pakistan’s intelligence service for its fight against terrorism. Military experts say Pakistan is vital because most supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan must pass through Pakistan by truck.

There’s a long history of U.S. aid money being used against U.S. interests in Pakistan. Leaked diplomatic cables suggest that the United States has been worried about misuse of aid money for some time. Lawrence Wright has a great piece in The New Yorker describing the U.S.’s changing motivations for supporting Pakistan and how aid money has been poured disproportionately into the military, or diverted toward arming Pakistan against India, including in the development of nuclear weapons. Wright suggests the misguided allocation of aid money may have empowered the military to associate with terrorist groups:

“The [Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)] became so glutted with power and money that it formed a ‘state within a state,’ in the words of Benazir Bhutto, who became Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 1988. She eventually fired Gul ( Hamid Gul, a former ISI director), fearing that he was engineering a coup.”

According to Wright, a major concern about cutting aid to Pakistan is that Pakistan may respond by barring U.S. drones from its airspace. Though civilian and military leadership have publicly condemned drone strikes, Pakistan’s English-language paper Dawn learned through WikiLeaks last week that Pakistan’s military has been requesting U.S. drone backup for its counterterrorism operations for years.

Debates about cutting U.S. aid to Pakistan are ongoing. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently voiced his support for continuing military aid.

Unanswered questions about Pakistan's current terror ties

Pakistan’s military has a history of working with terror groups to advance its own agenda. Lashkar-i-Taiba, the militant group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was formed in the late 1980s “and used by Pakistan as a proxy army in the fight against India for the Kashmir region.” The United States has also accused Hamid Gul, the former ISI director, of aiding the Taliban and al-Qaida. An unnamed Pakistani official close to Gul told the Washington Post that “Gul is widely viewed as the "godfather" of a Pakistani policy that used guerrilla groups such as Lashkar as proxies in the conflict with India over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.”

While Pakistani security forces have long been suspected of working with terrorists groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba even after they were banned in 2001, specifics about the extent of the government’s present involvement haven’t been nailed down.

In many cases, it’s unclear whether isolated officers of the ISI are working with terrorists, or whether the support is more widespread in the security forces. The fact that U.S. officials lumped the ISI together with terror groups in the leaked Guantanamo files suggests the United States believes it’s the latter.

In The New Yorker, Wright describes an organizational structure that allows the military to deal surreptitiously with terrorists:

“Within the I.S.I., there is a secret organization known as the S Wing, which is largely composed of supposedly retired military and I.S.I. officers. ‘It doesn’t exist on paper,’ a source close to the I.S.I. told me. The S Wing handles relations with radical elements. ‘If something happens, then they have deniability,’ the source explained.”

One of the big unanswered questions is the extent of the ISI’s involvement in the plot behind the Mumbai terror attacks. Some answers may emerge in the following weeks as Tahawwur Rana, one of the alleged plotters in the Mumbai attacks, stands trial in Chicago.

The Rana trial: why it matters, and what we've learned so far

The U.S. Justice Department has accused five men of helping to plan the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, which killed 166 people. Among the dead were six Americans, including a Brooklyn rabbi and his pregnant wife. Tahawwur Rana is being tried in federal court in Chicago for helping David Coleman Headley, who has confessed to scouting locations for the attacks. The United States has also indicted an alleged ISI officer in the case. That officer, known as Major Iqbal, is among the suspects who are still at large.

The star witness in Rana’s trial is Headley, who has confessed not only to working for the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba but also for the ISI. So far, Headley claims that ISI officers recruited him as an intelligence operative for the Mumbai attacks and that Major Iqbal funded and directed his reconnaissance and played a key role in the plot.

Pwwwhahaha - is this what passes for independent comment ? It is complete, verbatim US government BS.
Headley worked for the DEA and was no doubt working for US security in the Mumbai operation - which was so obviously not run by the Pakistani tools who did the dirty end. US false-flag operation - again.

I feel obliged to point out the obvious - Pakistan is a Sovereign Nation. The differences in development, culture and the specifics of regional politics, mean it would be very surprising if their security policy meshed well with US security priorities at all, I would have thought :)

The US has bought some Pakistani politicians and bribed/threatened a military and overwhelming security presence there - however, that does not translate into unity of purpose between Pakistan and the US - how could it ? Nor does it mean that the Pakistani people feel anything but hatred and resentment towards the US - well you will keep killing them from a safe height and distance. Funny how people don`t like that….

Good grief; do wake up and see the real world.

Great reporting!

Now I could care less about relationship with Pakistan, We, the U.S., have tried to pay them for years in the hope of mutual respect and friendship. Instead Pakistan has continued to promote and aid terrorist, failed to spend our contributions wisely and worse those elite in Washington continue to feed their veracious appetite for U.S. money. They continue their disdain of the U.S..

The U.S. Gov’t has put our Nation at risk by hocking our future generations with debt, put our Nation’s lands (which belong to the American people) at risk of belonging to a foreign country should the U.S. default on their obligations. The U.S. Gov’t did all this with out the peoples permission.

Now our Gov’t spews out “shared responsibility” for paying down the dept. Well I say let these other countries that we have dumped monies to share in the responsibility. Stop aid to them.

God our Gov’t elite are irresponsible and stupid. Fire them and stop any aid to Pakistan and yes other countries.

Having to pay for friendship will surely not result in friendship.

If these nefarious Nations want U.S. dollars let them put up their nation’s lands should they default on payment of their loan.

Madness.

Anthony D'Souza

May 27, 2011, 3:56 p.m.

THE attack on Pakistan Navy base at Mehran in Karachi has proved once again that Pakistan is facing a self-created monster which is now eating into its vitals bit by bit. The non-state actors who were, unfortunately, promoted by ISI czars for bleeding the supposed enemies to death have turned against their own creators.

Whatever were the intentions of using those private armies at the time of creation, it is very much clear now that the state of Pakistan itself is in danger of evaporating if Pakistan continues to have a soft corner for those marauders.

Pakistan Army, ISI and the nation needs a clean-up. They need to redefine the roles of Pakistan’s major power centres and decision-makers. Their whole attitude towards the security issue and its solution needs revamping. For starters, their foreign policy should be formulated by their civilian leadership and the foreign office and not by military establishment.

The Pakistani civilian leadership needs to take the driving seat in those matters as other arrangements so far have proved an unmitigated disaster. Today Pakistan is like a multi-headed hydra, with several power centers like ISI, the Army and civilian administration. These multiple power centers work independently of each other. The civilian administration is denied any involvement in matters related to nuclear assets, terrorist support, covert operations against neighbors, foreign policies related to neighbors, etc. The ISI and Pakistan Army should be brought under civilian control. This is a difficult thing to do, but essential first step as earlier attempts to bring the ISI under civilian control were rejected by the Army and the civilian government was humiliated by the military etablishment in this attempt. Pakistan is an isolated country in the world today. The Pakistanis are shunned by almost everyone, including their apparent friends. The reason is Pakistan’s constant double-speak and double games on all important security and counter-terrorism issues faced by the world.

Our government, in most part, serves the interest of corporate America. We, the people, just would get lip service. We have been halping dictators one after another in Pakistan since 1952, and the creation of CENTO Treaty, the military pact between US, Iran ( prior to 1979), Pakistan and Turkey. The intent was to creat a huge Moslem buffer zone aganist then the Soviet Union. This Moslem Shield, as it was known to the people of the region as “Kamar bande Eslami), was the brain child of Mr. Brezhinsky, the former National Security Advisor who sold his doctoral dissertation, Moslem Shield against the Soviets, to Ike Eisenhower, has proved to be deadly not only for innocent Pakistanis, but all others as well. The vicious cycle will continue…

Absolutely Reza - it is ongoing US policy to sestabilize pakistan; blind Freddy can see that..

Chi - please do actually ;look at some real US foreign policy history - they have caused civil war and mess death and destruction from Vietnam to Kosovo, from Iraq to Guatemala and the horrible truth about Colombia - US best friend and recipient of mega$Billions in ‘Aid’ is coming out now: Para,military death squads and mass graves of peasnats whose land is being stolen by US corporations, with the help of ex-President Uribe`s thugs.

The US has brought down over 50 national governments aroung=d the World since WW2 - and not one democracy has emerged from therir ‘assistance - look at the history of Iran, no wonder they are a little hostile towards the US.  The Democractic government brought down by the CIA in 1953 and replaced with the Shah`s tyranny. Now the US has the gall to criticise the Democratically elected government of Iran on Human Rights grounds ! It`s a wonder they don`t choke on their own hypocrisy - Yankees might know no history, but the rest of the world does.

You need to grow up, mate,  awaken from your patriotic coma - and deal with reality.  Use the resources of the internet - it`s amazing what you can find out with a little effort and an open mind :)

UK special rep Sedwill confirms talk with Taliban TTP are going on! Enough to confirm US is using TTP to destabilise Pakistan !!

irfen, Wouldn’t it be more straight forward for the U.S. to sick India on Pakistan? Certainly destabilization would happen more quickly and cheaper for us. I can’t think of one reason why it is in our interest for the U.S. Gov’t to do such a thing. Silly. Well I admit that our Gov’t does do stupid acts.

Clearly the USA’s history with Pakistan is wrought with irony and contradictions, but it’s a pretty big jump to accuse the author of being a government propaganda puppet. This is a great article, it’s well written and generally well researched - though of course only part of a larger discussion.

And @sharpfang, US foreign operations certainly have a troubled past (and present for that matter). But military snipers shooting civilians for protesting a skewed election (Iran), is still just that - military snipers shooting civilians. no matter who the criticism is coming from, it’s still contemptible.

Michael Hiner

Sep. 29, 2011, 2:21 p.m.

Luke left out the ritual executions by the Talibann the soccor stadiums.  How easily we forget.

The appeasement strategy for Pakistan was doomed to failure considering the long simmering relations between Pakistan and India.

A critical flaw in assymetric warfare is strategic policy that limits most forms of warfare to the borders of the combatant state. In the case of Afghanistan—allowing the combatants safe haven from total destruction by crossing over a border where they can reconstitute, re-supply, rest, eat, and have shelter, ensures a prolonged conflict.  The naivete of policy gurus in government, pundits, and well meaning opponents to the violence of military action somehow perprtuates the mantra and myth of successful limited warfare.  No modern military action that I can think of over the last 60 years has been successful where these conditions exist.  Repeat—As long as the enemy has financial and military support from other states who are opposed to one’s goals and objectives, and those states suffer no adverse consequence for their support, then the military on the ground will be stymied and denied the benefit of its superiority.  Ultimately the military will be recalled, achieving limited objectives, but denied total success and subjected to ludicrous propaganda from the hostile states that supported their enemy.

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This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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Pakistan’s Terror Connections

The Mumbai terror attacks have revealed evidence of the extent of the ties of Pakistani intelligence to terrorist groups and the flaws in the U.S fight against Pakistan-based terror.

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