NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. According to reports last month, the United States delivered what amounts to an ultimatum to Pakistan: You take out the Haqqani network, or we will. Then in his last appearance before Congress as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen publicly described the Haqqani network as a veritable arm of the ISI, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Admiral Mullen said publicly what many American officials believed for years: Pakistan protects and supports terrorist groups to use them as proxies against India in Kashmir, and against the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.
Outraged Pakistani officials denied the charge and declared that Pakistan would defend itself if U.S. forces attempted any attack. Today we focus on the Haqqanis, the ISI and Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan. If you served in Afghanistan, call and tell us what you saw from Pakistan. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. And you can join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, the legality and wisdom of the drone strike on an al-Qaida operative and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. You can email your opinions now. That address again is firstname.lastname@example.org.
But first, ISI, and few know more about the region than Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, the author of several books on the region's conflicts, and he joins us now from Madrid. Good to have you back on the program.
AHMED RASHID: Thank you.
CONAN: And is Admiral Mullen right?
RASHID: Well, you know, I mean, the U.S. administration has rolled back a lot of what he said. His direct charge, that the Haqqani network was an arm of the ISI, that has not been repeated by the State Department and the White House. You know, certainly the Haqqanis have been - have had sanctuary in Pakistan for the last 30 years, and they are extremely close to the military, the ISI.
But I think it's a bit farfetched to say that, you know, they have been directed in every attack that the Haqqanis have launched inside of Afghanistan and been directed by the Pakistanis. I think the Haqqanis have a lot of autonomy with what they do.
And they have been the enemy of the United States for the last 10 years. They've been fighting there alongside the Taliban, with al-Qaida, as well. They have close links to al-Qaida, something that Pakistan has also been fighting against.
So it's a mixed bag, I would say.
CONAN: But some attacks may have been directed by the ISI?
RASHID: Well, earlier there were charges that attacks on the Indian embassy in 2008 and 2009 were directed by the ISI. But after that, there hasn't been that kind of charge. There's been the charge that the Americans have been pushing Pakistan to go into North Waziristan, which is this tribal area where the Haqqanis are based and where their major sanctuary is.
The Pakistanis have been resisting, saying they can't do it at the moment, they don't have enough troops, their hands are tied. And this kind of, you know, back and forth has been going on for nearly three years now, and it's very clear, I think, to the American military that the Pakistanis are not going to go into North Waziristan, and they're not going to deal with Haqqani.
And I think that's what has prompted, you know, Admiral Mullen's comments that - the frustration of him spending so many hours and days with the Pakistan army chief, General Kayani, 27 trips to Pakistan, all the frustration has mounted enormously and the fact that now he - Admiral Mullen has left his job at - in leaving, of course, this issue unresolved.
CONAN: Tell us a little bit about the Haqqanis. The chief there is Jalaluddin Haqqani, a long-time warrior in Afghanistan.
RASHID: Well, I knew him extremely well during the war against the Soviets. He was a very important commander in Eastern Afghanistan. He'd brought down the Soviets enormously, and in a way, protected the Afghan-Pakistan border against the Soviets coming right up to the border.
And he was a very close friend of American Congressmen and Senators. He was a guest of President Reagan at the White House at one point, a - you know, a very well-known person. And he joined the Taliban quite late, in 1996, about three years after their movement began, and (technical difficulties) at the behest of the Pakistan military because the Pakistan military in the '90s had begun to support the Taliban.
And then his big test came in 2001, after the - you know, after 9/11. Both the Americans and the Pakistanis, General Musharraf, brought Haqqani to Islamabad. And I met him there, and the CIA and the ISI were trying to woo him, to get him to dump the Taliban and dump Osama bin Laden and go with the Americans, who were about to start bombing Afghanistan.
And that was really - you know, everyone tries very hard to swing him, but he would not leave the Taliban, and he went back as determined to oppose the American attack on Afghanistan.
CONAN: And this - the group is now led, as I understand it, by his two sons.
RASHID: Yes, I mean, his two sons are - he has two wives. One is an Arab lady, and another belongs to his tribe. She's from the Zadran tribe. And Sirajuddin, who has been most prominent out of the two sons, is from the Arab mother, speaks fluent Arabic like his father, also, and has very good contacts with some of the Gulf Arab and Saudi sheiks.
A lot of money has come to them from the Middle East over the years, and apparently he's also the (technical difficulties) also very close to al-Qaida and was a close friend of Osama bin Laden.
Now, certainly after the war in 2001, when al-Qaida retreated into Pakistan, the Haqqanis gave refuge to a time to al-Qaida, when they were at a loose end, probably also gave refuge to Osama bin Laden, although we don't know that precisely.
So they have been very close to al-Qaida. And then, you know, once the insurgency started in 2003, we saw the Haqqanis develop this enormous capacity for urban guerrilla war, which the other Taliban didn't have. And this also seems to have come from al-Qaida, because al-Qaida had a number of trainers who were very adept at fighting urban warfare.
And you get these attacks in Kabul and Kandahar and other cities, which were (technical difficulties) not perhaps that effective, but extremely good propaganda attacks. And that's where they have made their name.
CONAN: We're talking with Ahmed Rashid about the Haqqani network and the ISI, Pakistan's inter-service intelligence agency. Those of you who have served in Afghanistan, we'd like to know what you experienced coming across the border from Pakistan, 800-989-8255. Email is email@example.com. Tom's(ph) on the line calling us from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
TOM: Hi, how are you doing? Thanks for taking my call.
TOM: In Regional Command East, just east of FOB Chapman back in summer of '07, we got into a firefight with Taliban forces. And they were picked up by flagged Pakistani helicopters.
CONAN: By flagged Pakistani helicopters, picked them up in Afghanistan territory and then flew them across the border?
TOM: Yes, and rules of engagement stated we were not allowed to attack Pakistani forces if we were to come upon them, even if they were helping out AQ or Taliban, and nor could we follow them into Pakistani territory.
CONAN: And did you have any idea who those particular Taliban were?
TOM: No, they're not uniformed. I mean, they were insurgents dressed in civilian garb, and they were attacking our forces. So we responded.
CONAN: So you didn't know if they were particularly important persons is what I'm saying?
TOM: You can't really tell the difference between, whether they're HIG or AQ or, you know, Haqqani. There are all different types of groups, and they're basically back and forth across the tribal region there, on the border.
CONAN: A little frustrating, though, Tom?
TOM: Oh extremely so, and the thing is because you have new countries called Afghanistan and Pakistan, it's not going to change thousands-of-year-old tribal regions. So unless you're going to roll both of those countries up into one massive country and then have the tribal region within that new boundary, we're never going to solve this problem.
CONAN: The Pashtunistan that some people talk about.
TOM: Yeah, they're going to have to create a new state to have the tribe within that one boundary, one border.
CONAN: Tom, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.
TOM: Thank you.
CONAN: And Ahmed Rashid, I'd not heard that before, that Pakistani-flagged helicopters came across the border to pluck Taliban insurgents out of Afghanistan and ferry them back across.
RASHID: Well, I haven't heard that before, but certainly there have been a lot of reports about Pakistanis helping the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and helping them come back, and artillery fire being used by the Pakistanis to give covering fire to Taliban who are either advancing or retreating.
So on the border, there has been considerable, you know, collaboration over the years, between the Pakistanis and I would not say all Taliban groups, but some Taliban groups, perhaps.
CONAN: And of course the United States has launched at least two that we know of, Special Forces raids involving troops on the ground into Pakistan, the most recent of course the mission to get Osama bin Laden.
RASHID: Yes, apparently. I mean, there have been more than just that. Apparently, you know, we don't know how many there've been, but there have been at least, you know, some people say more than a dozen such raids, which the Pakistanis also have kept quiet because obviously, this would be very embarrassing to have it out that American forces have been on Pakistani soil.
Obviously, nobody could hide the fact that the Americans came in to get bin Laden, but there have been attacks even before that.
CONAN: And you say embarrassing, yet it's evident that Pakistan knows about, at least, some of these in advance and may coordinate with the United States.
RASHID: Some of these attacks may well be coordinated, but my sense is that probably not. Because if, you know, ground troops were wanted or had to be used in Pakistani territory, the Pakistanis would have preferred to use their own troops.
So it seems that these raids that have taken place have been secret raids or raids that were not previously told to the Pakistanis.
CONAN: We're talking with Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, the author of several books on the wars in Afghanistan and that region of the world. And we're talking about Pakistan's intelligence agency following accusations that the country supports terror groups that kill American troops.
In a few minutes, we'll talk with a former ambassador from Pakistan to the U.S. with a view from her country. If you served in Afghanistan, call and tell us what you saw from Pakistan, 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. After a week of public back-and-forth between Pakistan and the United States, Pakistan's President Zardari took to the opinion pages of the Washington Post yesterday in a piece titled "Talk To, Not Act, Pakistan." He wrote in part: The international community abandoned central and south Asia a generation ago, triggering the catastrophe that we now find ourselves in.
Whoever comes or goes, it is our coming generation that will face the firestorm. We have to live in the neighborhood. So why is it unreasonable for us to be concerned about the immediate and long-term situation of our western border? History will not forgive us if we don't take responsibility.
That western border, of course, is with Afghanistan, a region where insurgents enjoy sanctuaries and continue to launch attacks on NATO and U.S. troops, attacks from terror groups which many in the U.S. believe have connections with Pakistan's intelligence services.
If you served in Afghanistan, call and tell us what you saw from Pakistan, 800-989-8255. Email, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Our guest is Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore, author of several books on Pakistan and the region's conflicts, including "The Resurgence of Central Asia" and "Descent Into Chaos."
And let's go next to John(ph), John with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.
JOHN: Yes, hi, hello.
CONAN: Go ahead please.
JOHN: Okay, yeah. I just want to say that there's a lot of talk among the leadership about the supposed link that occurs between the Haqqani network - while many of the links are there, I just don't think very much - what's the word I'm looking for - elucidates exactly what the relationship between these two parties are.
I mean, it makes it out to be that the Haqqani network is actually an actor working on behalf of the Pakistani government, when if their goals and the Pakistani goals are in line, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're connected to each other. It just means that they have some common networks.
And to say that they are kind of shows the dearth of imagination on behalf of American leaders to understand that dynamic.
CONAN: Well, they may have similar interests; nevertheless, Pakistan, according to those officials, is providing aid and comfort to terrorist organizations that send men across the border to kill American soldiers.
JOHN: And it's also a matter of that they're providing aid because they don't want them to attack Pakistani soldiers in the same area and the fact that, as was said on the earlier show that was on NPR that I heard that was pointing out very correctly that there's almost no troops on the Afghan-Pakistani border, yet that's where a lot of the attacks take place because the Pakistani military, being so small, is looking fulltime at a nonexistent threat that's coming from India.
CONAN: All right, well, thanks very much for the call, John, appreciate it.
JOHN: No problem.
CONAN: Ayesha Siddiqa is an author and defense analyst in Pakistan. She's the author of the book "Military, Incorporated: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy." She joins us now from her home in Islamabad, and thanks very much for being with us today.
AYESHA SIDDIQA: Thanks for inviting me.
CONAN: And this is quite a discussion in this country, as I know it is in Pakistan, too, but to what degree do you think the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups are connected to ISI, the inter-services intelligence agency?
SIDDIQA: Sorry, I missed the last part of it.
CONAN: How much are - how closely are terrorist organizations aligned with the ISI?
SIDDIQA: Yeah, ISI has had a long-standing - in fact, I would say that the CIA and ISI, you know, they were the parents of the Haqqani network and other warlords in Afghanistan dating back to the (unintelligible). But later on, these contacts were kept up by the ISI, and there are two perspectives.
One perspective is the military, which says that yes, it has contacts, but they're nothing more than just contacts, which any agency would have. But then if you talk to people on the ground, some of them are more suspicious of the military's claim. They believe that the Haqqani network - well, basically one also has to understand that what is Haqqani network.
Haqqani network is a bunch of three to four groups, tribal groups which actually belong (unintelligible) but keep coming into the Pakistani territory. They probably use the Pakistani territory, you know, for rest and recreation, which means recouping.
So - and, you know, consistently, whenever Pakistan was asked to attack, the claim was that we will not because these forces are not attacking us. And we cannot open too many fronts. So that was the position. And many believe that this is not - this is more than a position, which means that they have contacts, deeper contacts. But, you know, probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
CONAN: And the Pakistani government, its response to Admiral Mullen's remarks about a veritable arm of the ISI and about reports that the United States had issued an ultimatum to Pakistan, the Pakistani reaction has been - well, you describe it.
SIDDIQA: Of course Pakistani action has been - I mean, there is immense anger. And what is very interesting is that the public opinion also as the media reported what was happening, you know, what was happening, you know, in Washington, the messages that Washington was sending. As the media reported in Pakistan, the anger was getting more and more, and there has been a lot of rhetoric as a result. The government even organized an all-parties conference, which basically was meant to send a signal to the U.S. that enough is enough.
We think - and after that, the prime minister has said that we will talk to the Haqqani network because we think - I mean, that's the government of Pakistan thinks that talking to Haqqani network is beneficial instead of fighting them. The U.S. wants to talk - should talk to them, the Pakistani must talk to them.
So there has been this buildup in anger against the U.S., which is not necessarily just linked with this particular event. The anger had been building up much before. But this particular event, which is Admiral Mike Mullen's statement, just kind of ignited it even further.
CONAN: Can you give us some estimate of how powerful an organization the ISI is? We hear in this country that they may be involved in the death of Pakistani journalists who uncover uncomfortable information and that they are involved in support of these groups on the Afghan border also support proxy groups that fight on Pakistan's behalf in Kashmir.
SIDDIQA: Well, the ISI, which was meant to provide, you know, strategic intelligence, has over the years grown very (unintelligible). I mean, it's - inside the country, it's quite, you know, a feared organization although it's very interesting the manner in which the narrative has been changed, you know, in the recent past.
And the commentators, especially, you know, those favored by the states and some out of fear are actually defending the ISI. But the fact is that in private meetings, ISI is not considered as a pleasant name. People are afraid of it. People are afraid of its linkages with, you know, different, other unpleasant entities.
And it's extremely powerful. (Unintelligible), and it's main - I mean, it's not an agency which is out of control, definitely not, but it's definitely a very powerful organization, primarily because the army, you know, which it's a part of, is extremely powerful politically.
CONAN: Ayesha Siddiqa, thank you very much for your time today, we thank you.
CONAN: Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent author and political analyst, former professor of military science at Johns Hopkins University, author of "Military, Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy." Let's get Hugh(ph) on the line. Hugh with us from Colorado.
HUGH: Hi, sir, thanks for taking my call. I'll try and get this out as quick as possible. So basically I was an infantry platoon leader in Kunar province, which borders Pakistan's Bajaur Agency in the tribal areas. And out of all the, you know, the ambushes and contacts I've been in, the one time that we actually captured and/or engaged and neutralized the enemy, the one time that we were able to search them - so this is not really indicative, but it's my one opportunity - was in a place called the Waygal Valley.
And the one enemy that we did search, he had multiple Pakistani ID cards on him, and there was intelligence that a lot of the indirect fire that was being fired at our base was from prior enlisted Pakistani mortar specialists. And basically my comment is that it shouldn't be a surprise that the ISI and the Haqqani network have a link. It shouldn't be even a surprise why they have a link because of - in response to the Indo-American efforts.
But we should be surprised at the fact that it's not just the Haqqani network. There's a lot of other people out there. There's the HIG, there's Lashkar-e-Taiba, there's other networks that have global - however lofty they are - global desires in terms of their kinetic activities, but that's just my comment for that one. And I don't think we should be really surprised that Pakistan wants to defend itself indirectly through these I'll call them terrorist networks for lack of a better word.
CONAN: Hugh, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
HUGH: Thank you.
CONAN: And, Ahmed Rashid, I know we have to let you go in a couple of minutes, but I wanted to ask you about Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan. As Hugh was just telling us, they think, well, the United States and NATO, they're going to be gone in a few years. We are still going to be here.
RASHID: Well, you know, let me just, you know, clarify one thing. I mean, Pakistan has followed a policy over the last 10 years since the war ending in Afghanistan in 2001 that they will capture and kill and go after those Taliban who are fighting the Pakistan army - in other words, the Pakistani Taliban. But those Afghan Taliban who are not fighting the Pakistani army, who are using Pakistani soil for rest and recreation or rearming or regrouping or whatever the case may be, they will not go after those Taliban.
So, in other words, they made a decision eight or nine years ago not to go after the Afghan Taliban who are not harming the Pakistan army. Now, this was a strategic decision that was made by General - President Musharraf many years ago, and it was not taken up at the time by President Bush, because Bush was interested in getting al-Qaida. And as long as the Pakistanis were getting al-Qaida, the Americans were not too interested in the Taliban or asking any questions about the Taliban.
The present situation has really arisen since President Obama came in and has taken up much more seriously the issue of Pakistan allowing the Afghan Taliban sanctuary, you know, in Pakistan. This is why we have a crisis not just with Haqqani, but we have a crisis with all the Afghan Taliban groups because, as the previous speaker was explaining, they're all living to some extent in Pakistan.
CONAN: And, of course, there's the other issue of the drone attacks, which are highly irritant to Pakistan as well, though, again, seldom done on Pakistan's behalf.
RASHID: Yes. I mean, the drone attacks, you know, are, you know, enormously disliked inside the country. And the other factor is the India factor. The fact is that, you know, the Pakistan, the military still considers its main enemy India. And they're very nervous about the Indian presence in Afghanistan, the American support to India. There's a lot of hype about this. It's perhaps overhyped by the Pakistanis. But there is a threat that is very, very real, and really, nothing has been done about it. I mean, we have no dialogue between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan. And this is very urgently needed.
CONAN: Ahmed Rashid, thanks for your time as always.
RASHID: Thank you.
CONAN: Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, joined us from his home in Madrid, in Spain. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And joining us now is Mahlia Lodhi, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, also a former high commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom. She's on the line with - from her home in Islamabad. And it's good of you to be with us.
MAHLIA LODHI: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: And the comments by Admiral Mullen come at a fragile time for U.S.-Pakistan relations, and the feelings of Pakistan about - I wonder, were you, as ambassador, told similar things in private?
LODHI: No, I do not recall something of this kind, which, you know, we must, I think, also acknowledge that since these comments were made last week, the United States has lowered the rhetoric. It has not endorsed these remarks and subsequent statements by U.S. officials. And I think in a welcomed development, Washington has tried to walk back from the verbal confrontation that was building up with Pakistan. But having said that, I think we also have to recognize that this is the third crisis in the relationship in what has been a roller coaster year.
We had a protracted row in the early part of the year over what was a CIA contractor, called Raymond Davis. Then, we had the May 2nd U.S. covert raid into Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden, which was in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty since Pakistan had not been told. And now, we have this. But I do think that at the heart of the current crisis is the divergence in approach to Afghanistan between Pakistan and the United States because I think some of these comments which are coming not just by Admiral Mullen but other comments where, you know, expectations are that Pakistan goes out and, you know, kill, capture or reconcile with the United States some of these Taliban leaders.
You know, to the Pakistani mind, this is a policy of the United States which is clouded by confusion because Pakistan is being asked to help reach out to the Taliban because President Obama has announced not long ago that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and the peace in Afghanistan can only come through a political settlement. So here on the one hand, Pakistan is being asked to reach out to the Taliban. And on the other hand, Pakistan is also being asked to go after them.
And I think the divergence comes in the following ways, that Pakistan feels the U.S. is following two parallel policies. It is continuing to step up kinetic activity while wanting a peaceful settlement. Whereas Pakistan wants to accelerate the peace process and see how it can bring in all the combatants into a negotiating process. And it doesn't feel that this fight-and-talk strategy is going to work in Afghanistan.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Craig(ph). The Pakistanis want to have it both ways. They complain they haven't had control of North Waziristan, but they claim it is Pakistani territory, and we can't touch it. If it's Pakistani territory, then they're responsible for that territory and what happens there. If they don't control the area, then it's not Pakistani territory, and they're not responsible for what happens there. Well, we just have a few seconds with you, ambassador, but I was hoping you could address that.
LODHI: Well, you know, this is a very difficult porous border. It is one of the most difficult terrains in this part of the world. Pakistan has done its best to try to manage the border, but it takes two to manage the border. Forces on the other side need to do as much as we do on our side. And I think, you know, Pakistan has already shown its commitment to this fight by the number of sacrifices it's made. It's lost 35,000 civilians in this fight. It has lost 3,000 service personnel.
And yet, Pakistan is accused of not doing enough. So this doesn't really please a lot of Pakistanis that we are constantly being called upon as if to test our commitment and constantly being asked to do things when we know that we have done a great deal. But we do need to reconcile what I earlier described as a divergent approach now in how to end the war in Afghanistan. That's clearly is in Pakistan's interest.
CONAN: Ambassador Lodhi, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. Coming up, the Opinion Page. Stay with us. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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