Pakistan is not our friend

And there's no reason to pretend that it is

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Mark Siegel is scrambling to keep the dysfunctional couple together, but the shotgun marriage of a decade ago is doomed.

Mr. Siegel parlayed service with President Jimmy Carter and several Democrats in Congress into a partnership at Lord Locke Strategies, the lobbying firm the government of Pakistan pays $75,000 a month.

That's been a bargain for Pakistan, which has received more than $20 billion in U.S. aid since 9/11. The United States plans to send another $3 billion next year.

Pakistan needs the money desperately. But foreign aid for Pakistan has become a harder sell.

"To enable (Osama bin Laden) to live in Pakistan in a military community for six years, I just don't believe it was done without some form of complicity," said Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The relationship makes less and less sense to me."

Ms. Feinstein understates. Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency is a terrorist organization, some interrogators at Guantanamo Bay believe, according to a 2007 document made public by Wikileaks last month. A British intelligence report leaked in 2006 reached the same conclusion.

The ISI created the Taliban in Afghanistan and helped plan the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people -- six of them Americans -- were killed.

The ISI runs Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror group that attacked Mumbai, Indian intelligence thinks. Does the ISI run al-Qaida, too?

Every major international terror group is supported if not sponsored by a state, because it needs things only a state can provide: sanctuaries in which to rest and train, travel documents, intelligence, weapons and explosives which are not available commercially.

This obvious truth was, well, obvious into the mid-1990s, at which point some "experts" in think tanks declared that private transnational groups -- as al-Qaida was said then to be -- were the wave of the future in terrorism.

This nonsense was spouted chiefly to provide President Bill Clinton with an excuse for not confronting the terror-supporting states of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Captured documents indicate that long before 9/11 bin Laden had contacts with the ISI, and with Saddam Hussein's intelligence service.

Al-Qaida "is a symptom, not a cause," said Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer who knows Pakistan well. "Without Saudi money and Pakistani protection, al-Qaida would be just as relevant as VHS cassettes."

The al-Qaida Osama bin Laden created was dead by 2005, said former CIA analyst Larry Johnson. That's about the time bin Laden moved into the mansion in Abbottabad, which has been described as an ISI safe house.

"There is no al-Qaida," Mr. Johnson wrote on his blog. "At its height, just prior to the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaida had at most 600 adherents, and a majority of those were killed or captured (mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq)."

Harvard researcher Matt Waldman said in a report last year that 19 current or former Taliban leaders told him the ISI "orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences" the movement, and sometimes directs attacks on U.S. soldiers. That support for the Taliban is official Pakistani policy "is as clear as the sun in the sky," he said.

Washington ignored the Waldman report. In the wake of the bin Laden revelations, it will be harder to do so. Lt. Col. Peters thinks Pakistan is America's foremost enemy.

Despite massive evidence of Pakistani duplicity, many in Washington still claim cutting U.S. aid would have dire consequences. Among them are Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass, and Richard Lugar, R-Ind, the chairman and ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This is partly because of the money Mr. Siegel and others spread around. But mostly it's because there once was a rationale for pretending Pakistan was an ally and Washington is resistant to change.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the only way to strike at al-Qaida in Afghanistan was through Pakistan. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said George W. Bush's deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, made him an offer he couldn't refuse: Grant the U.S. overflight rights and a ground supply route, and we'll give you billions in aid. Refuse, and we'll bomb you back into the Stone Age. (Mr. Armitage denied making threats.)

Circumstances have changed radically since 2001. We have nothing further to gain, and much to lose, by pretending an enemy is a friend.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio ( jkelly@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1476).


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