Trump says Pakistan ‘harbors terrorists.’ The real story isn’t so simple. – Washington Post
Announcing a new Afghanistan strategy on Aug. 21, President Trump accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists we fight” and said the situation “must change immediately.”
Yes, Pakistan’s counterterrorism record is frustrating, but Trump’s harsh words are unlikely to have much effect. My research suggests that Pakistan is not following a conscious policy of “harboring terrorism.” Instead, its leaders are constrained by a long and complex history that intertwines Islam and Pakistani security.
Ultimately, Pakistani leaders are more worried about domestic backlash than U.S. threats, so any U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan will find that Pakistan continues to be a problematic partner.
Pakistan has long been a complicated counterterrorism partner
U.S. frustration with Pakistan goes back to the 1990s, when Pakistan supported Islamist militants in India-held Kashmir — and saw these groups as important allies in the country’s struggle with India. Pakistan also supported the Taliban in the 1990s, looking to exert influence over Afghanistan. The United States, by contrast, saw both Kashmiri militants and the al-Qaeda-supporting Taliban as terrorists. U.S. criticism at the time — and Pakistani foot-dragging — led to considerable tensions in the bilateral relationship.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan proved to be an important, but still frustrating, counterterrorism partner. Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf cut off ties with the Taliban, cooperated with the U.S. invasion and arrested numerous al-Qaeda members in the country. But he allowed many Kashmiri militant groups to keep operating. Additionally, the military and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency — the Inter-Services Intelligence — maintained ties with Afghan militants. This includes the notorious Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Taliban that has launched brutal attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces.
Pakistan also failed to control its border with Afghanistan, which allowed militants to escape the U.S. military. This unstable situation continued after Musharraf stepped down in 2008 and a series of civilian leaders replaced him. For example, in 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen — the top U.S. military official — claimed that Pakistan’s intelligence agency supported an attack by the Haqqani network against the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s politics and religion have been closely linked for decades
The situation in Pakistan reflects the inertia of a decades-long intertwining of Pakistan’s security and Islamic politics.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, an Indian politician, pushed for the founding of Pakistan as a country for South Asia’s Muslims (rather than an expressly Islamic state) during the negotiations for India’s independence in 1947. Yet as Pakistani journalist Abbas Nasir recently wrote, the Objectives Resolution — presented by Jinnah’s successor — changed this. This document established Islam as the official religion of Pakistan and the basis for its laws. At the same time, the Pakistani military justified its power by pointing to the threat from India and — according to Pakistan expert Christine Fair — the need to defend Islam.
Islam became more intertwined with Pakistan’s security in the 1960s and 1970s. As historian Husain Haqqani discusses, when East Pakistan — later Bangladesh — pushed for autonomy in the late 1960s, Pakistani military leaders turned to Islamists to terrorize pro-secession forces. In the 1970s, socialist Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto called Pakistan’s nuclear weapons efforts a struggle for an “Islamic bomb.”