Talk about an inconvenient truth. Admiral Mike Mullen testified today that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency was behind the attack carried out by the Haqqani Network on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last week as well as other attacks, including the massive truck-bombing of a U.S. base on Sept. 10 that injured 77 troops.
Mullen’s revelation is no great surprise given the intimate ties between the Haqqanis and the ISI. But it does raise the ticklish question of what do we do about what is, after all, an act of war. In this regard, the current situation recalls the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. There was considerable evidence linking the Bulgarian secret service—and, through it, the Russian KGB—to the attack, but there was a widespread sense in the West that we’d rather not look into that too deeply. After all, if it were true, there would be some obligation to do something about it—but what? Nobody wanted to risk war with the Soviet Union under any circumstances. Thus, we turned a blind eye to the possible conspiracy behind the attack on the Pope.
So it is with Pakistan: It continues to carry out terrorist acts in both India and Afghanistan, yet policymakers in the West would rather turn a blind eye and retreat into hackneyed phrases about the need for “engagement.” Mullen’s declaration makes that charade harder to carry out. But that doesn’t mean anything substantive will change. Because Pakistan is, like the Soviet Union, a nuclear-armed state. It is also home to countless Islamist fanatics who would take advantage of treacherous terrain to wage guerrilla warfare on any invader—as they have done for centuries and as they currently do against Pakistan’s own army.
Absent a Pakistan-sponsored attack on the American homeland, the use of military force against the Pakistani state would appear to be off the table. But what does that leave us? The same policy of engagement—aid combined with browbeating—which has failed over the course of the last decade. Policymakers in Washington debate minor tweaks to this policy, not a wholesale revision. Perhaps they are right; goodness knows, I have no magical solution to offer. But at least we need to face the facts squarely and realize that Pakistan—or at the very least its ISI—is more enemy than friend.