Can the ISI really help the US talk with the Haqqanis?

Among one of ISI’s most prized possessions is a piece of the defunct Berlin Wall. This craggy concrete piece, no larger than a stone that boys hurl against occupation forces in Kashmir and Palestine, was presented by the CIA in grateful appreciation for the fatal blow that ISI delivered to demolish communism. That era of mutual cooperation and respect between the two intelligence agencies is now a thing of the past. In the murky underworld of intelligence, as in international relations there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

Over the past few years the Americans have demonized ISI for playing a double game in Afghanistan. The ISI has been blamed for supporting the Haqqani network – A Taliban group with alleged sanctuaries in North Waziristan. This ‘psy ops’ theme has been played so aggressively that the entire world now takes it for gospel truth. It therefore came as no surprise that the Haqqanis were instantly blamed for the deadly September 13 attack on the American embassy in Kabul. The former US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen went a step further and declared the Haqqanis, as the “veritable arm of the ISI.” The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former president and chairman of High Peace Council, a week later, was also blamed on the Haqqanis. Naturally the Pakistani government rejected the American allegations as unfair and unwarranted. Accusations by Afghan high officials and the Indo-Afghan security agreement only served to heighten Pakistani concerns.

During her recent visit to Pakistan, the American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in combative mood. She wanted her Pakistani interlocutors to understand that as the US wound up military operations in Afghanistan, they would simultaneously Fight, Talk and Build. The last element in the proposed strategy amounts to building up the local Afghan forces to replace the NATO and ISAF. As far as Clinton was concerned, she thought Pakistan had the capacity “to encourage, to push, to squeeze” the Haqqanis into peace talks. Pakistanis, who would much rather that the Americans stopped fighting and withdraw post haste, reluctantly agreed to help, wondering all the time, if such talks, if these ever took place would succeed. As a quid pro quo, Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congress, that aid to Pakistan should not be stopped for its so-called misdemeanors in Afghanistan.

The American policy in Afghanistan is quite similar to the one they adopted in Vietnam. Towards the fag end, as the Americans bombed neighboring Laos and Cambodia and fought running battles against the Viet Cong, they simultaneously engaged in Paris peace talks. The fight and talk strategy did not succeed then, one wonders if it will now.

Stop Press. It is being alleged that the attack on a NATO bus in Kabul last Sunday, that left 17 people killed was the handiwork of the Haqqanis. So far the ISI has not been officially blamed!

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