Winter 2016
Number 30

The Other Rogue State

Ashok K. Mehta

NEW DELHI—Today, Israel is preoccupied with the threat from Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, while the United States is focused on the dangers posed by Sunni Islamism’s newest and most virulent strain, embodied by the Islamic State. Largely absent from contemporary discussions about extremism, however, is any discussion of another rogue state, Pakistan, and the threat it poses to its region, and the world.

Pakistan has long embraced the practice of harnessing terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy—a bad habit it acquired at the time of its baptism in 1947, when it employed tribal raiders to wrest Kashmir from neighboring India. In 1965, it used armed soldiers disguised as civilians as part of a covert campaign of destabilization aimed at Delhi. In 1999, its paramilitaries again joined in covert operations—this time under the strategic umbrella provided by Pakistan’s nuclearization the year prior. In between, and thereafter, Pakistan’s fomentation of instability has been both extensive and well documented, oriented around a single target: India.

Pakistan today harbors 36 terrorist organizations, at least four of which are on the UN and U.S. lists of banned groups. Three of the five “most wanted” terrorists on the U.S. counterterrorism list—Mullah Omar, the head of the Afghan Taliban, the late al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, and his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri—either lived or live on its soil. Moreover, Pakistan’s pivotal role in contemporary nuclear proliferation (via the network of A.Q. Khan, the “father” of its atomic bomb) is well known.

Islamabad has occupied these roles in the face of international pressure—and has done so without remorse. Thus, Assad Durrani, the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), confirmed to the BBC in the wake of Bin Laden’s 2011 killing that the country had held the al-Qaeda chief “to see if we could get something out of President Obama.” Earlier, another high-ranking official of the ISI told the country’s parliament that the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament had been carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad—a group Islamabad supports. And, according to declassified cables, Pakistani Foreign Minister Inam-ul-Haque told U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering in May 2000 that he could not assure him that his government would end its official support for infiltration into Kashmir.

That unconstructive role has only continued. Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen told the U.S. Congress in April 2012 that extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan and U.S. soldiers, and that the Haqqani network of the Taliban was acting as a strategic arm of Pakistan’s ISI.

Why does Pakistan behave this way? Because it pays dividends. Since 9/11, Pakistan has received $19 billion as Coalition Support Funds for counterinsurgency operations in its North West Frontier Province. This figure, however, has been dwarfed by the billions of dollars paid to Islamabad by Washington in a bid to secure its good behavior. That this policy is self-defeating has been noticed by more than a few legislators on Capitol Hill, who have sniped at the White House that “we are paying Pakistan to have our soldiers killed in Afghanistan.” Yet this policy of misguided engagement on the part of the U.S. government continues.

So, too, does Pakistani intransigence. Until last year, the Pakistan Army had resolutely refused to target its strategic assets in North Waziristan, a long-standing U.S. demand. That demand was finally addressed in the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, but observers like American expert C. Christine Fair have called it “rubbish” because it has not targeted the Haqqanis, the most potent ally of the Afghan Taliban (and the part supported by the state itself).

That such a policy is self-defeating is clearly evident. So, too, is the fact that Pakistan serves not as a partner against the scourge of international terrorism, but as a key fomenter of it. Washington’s policy of acquiescing to Islamabad’s status as a “frenemy” and abiding its rogue behavior is not only unsustainable in the long run. It is dangerous, both for America and for its partners in the region.

Ashok Kumar Mehta is a retired Major General of the Indian Army who fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan. He is the convenor of the India-Pakistan and Afghanistan Policy Group Track II initiatives.