In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Lt. Milo Minderbinder transforms the mess accounts of the American airbase under his care into a “syndicate” under whose terms all servicemen are potential stakeholders. But this prince of entrepreneurs and middlemen eventually becomes overexposed, especially after some incautious forays into Egyptian cotton futures, and is forced to resort to some amoral subterfuges. The climactic one of these is his plan to arrange for himself to bomb the American base at Pianosa (for cost plus 6 percent, if my memory serves) with the contract going to the highest bidder. It’s only at this point that he is deemed to have gone a shade too far.
In his electrifying testimony before Congress last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has openly admitted to becoming the victim of a syndicate scheme that makes Minderbinder’s betrayal look like the action of a small-time operative. In return for subventions of millions of American dollars, it now turns out, the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence agency (the ISI) can “outsource” the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and several other NATO and Afghan targets, to a related crime family known as the Haqqani network. Coming, as it does, on the heels of the disclosure about the official hospitality afforded to Osama Bin Laden, this reveals the Pakistani military-intelligence elite as the most adroit double-dealing profiteer from terrorism in the entire region.
Annoyed even so by the loss of “deniability” that Mullen’s testimony entails, the Pakistani officer class has resorted to pretending that its direct relationships with al-Qaida and the Haqqani syndicate do not exist, and that in any case any action or protest resulting would constitute a violation of its much-vaunted “sovereignty.” Both of these claims are paper-thin, or worse. If we employ Bertrand Russell’s argument of “evidence against interest,” for example, we can find absolutely no motive for Mullen—flanked as he was by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta—to have been making such an allegation falsely. To the contrary, they had every reason to wish to avoid the conclusion they have been forced to draw. It makes utter and abject nonsense of the long-standing official claim that Washington’s collusion with the ISI has been conducted in good faith and directed for a common cause. It shows American prestige and resources being used, not to diminish the power of “rogue” elements in the Pakistani system, but to enhance and empower them. It makes us look like fools and suckers, which is what we have become, unable to defend even our own troops, let alone civilian staff and facilities, from deadly assaults not just from the back but—flagrantly, unashamedly—from the front.
As for Pakistan’s arrogant and insufferable riposte, to the effect that this is all part of its tender concept of its own “internal affairs,” it barely adds insult to injury. On Sept. 12 , 2001, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1368, condemning the attacks on American soil and asserting the universal right of self-defense. The terms of the resolution explicitly state that those found to be “supporting or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable.”* This unambiguous language, which secured the votes of Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Tunisia as well as those of the five permanent members of the Security Council and many other nations, deserves to get more repeated exposure than it has been receiving. Pakistan’s provision of a military safe-house for the leader of al-Qaida is as comprehensive a breach of the spirit and letter of Resolution 1368 as could be imagined. Meanwhile the Haqqani gang, operating in open collaboration with the Taliban of Mullah Omar as well as other insanitary forces, easily meets the definition of an organization that helps sponsor and succor the original perpetrators.
Mullen’s evidence, then, is one of those revelations that appears to necessitate action. Either the Pakistanis must permit an unobstructed run at the Haqqani bases that are used for the subversion of Pakistan as well as the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan, or they must at the very least lose their claim on the U.S. Treasury. At the most, they must take the risk of being identified as allies and patrons of those who deliberately murder coalition forces as well as Afghan and Pakistani civilians. This indictment would easily stretch to cover another gross violation of international law and diplomatic immunity, in that the ISI was also found culpable in the destruction of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008.
There was a time, when he was a presidential candidate, that Barack Obama was “clear” (as he so much likes to put it) about the way in which Pakistani actions might have real consequences for Pakistan. In early debates with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, he expressed a willingness to undertake some version of hot pursuit, if necessary into lawless regions of Pakistan, in order to deter and punish cross-border aggression. The raid on Bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad, conducted in May under the radar of Bin Laden’s overt protectors, gave expression to this determination. So what will President Obama do, now that the Pakistani political leadership has openly declared its whole state to be lawless, and outside the jurisdiction of U.N. resolutions, and available as a base for terrorist operations against our Afghan and Indian friends?
In this context, the murder last week of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan warlord-president who headed the country’s so-called “High Peace Council,” may not necessarily be the “blow” to any “peace process” that truly merits the phrase. We allow ourselves to forget that many Afghans are deeply suspicious of a negotiation that refers to the Taliban—in President Hamid Karzai’s euphemistic words—as lost or alienated “brothers.” In this skeptical camp belong many of the Hazara and Tajik populations, many independent women’s groups, and some unsuccessful contestants, such as Abdullah Abdullah, of the scandalously bought and rigged elections of a few months ago.
These people see no reason why Pakistan’s vicious proxies should be allowed, by surreptitious back channels, to gain what they have so far failed to get on the battlefield. But they do not feel that the United States is sympathetic to them, and they naturally wince when they see our embrace of their enemies. That is why the overdue decision to call these enemies by their right names is so potentially significant, and will, one hopes, soon be followed by a complete breach with those we have been so humiliatingly subsidizing to sabotage us.
Correction, Sept. 26, 2011: This article originally misquoted U.N. Resolution 1368, which reads that those supporting or harboring terrorists “be held accountable,” not “equally accountable.” (Return to the corrected sentence.)