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The Pakistani army’s complex relationship with jihadists

CLUTCHING a glass of distinctly un-Islamic whisky, a retired senior Pakistani official explains at a drinks party in Islamabad, the capital, that his country has no choice but to support the jihadist opposition in Afghanistan. The Indians are throwing money at their own favourites in Afghanistan, he says, and the Russians and Iranians are doing the same. So Pakistan must play the game too. “Except we have no money. All we have are the crazies. So the crazies it is.”

Chief among the crazies is the Haqqani network, an Islamist militia with a 30-year history of fighting foreign occupations of Afghanistan. In mid-September the network struck in the heart of Kabul, launching a 20-hour assault on the American embassy and other targets. A week later, the leader of President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to make peace with the insurgents, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in Kabul. The suicide bomber is suspected by some to have been linked to the Haqqanis.

Just after this Mike Mullen, chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, part of the country’s all-powerful army. A raft of other American officials, incensed by recent attacks on Western targets in Afghanistan, joined the verbal assault on Pakistan.

Perhaps because he is retiring this week, Admiral Mullen seems to have overstated things. It is not clear that the Americans have, as he claimed, a smoking gun linking the ISI to the ordering of strikes in Afghanistan. More to the point, America’s abilities to influence Pakistan’s army are limited. Admiral Mullen’s comments are likely only to worsen relations with Pakistan, and to fuel anti-American sentiment among ordinary Pakistanis. Read more in The Economist

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Written by Theophyle

October 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm

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