January 17, 2018

THANKS, DONALD!

The C.I.A.'s Maddening Relationship with Pakistan (Nicholas Schmidle, January 12, 2018, The New Yorker)

By 2015, the C.I.A. had begun to run out of Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan; there were ten drone strikes reported in Pakistan that year, compared to a hundred and twenty-two in 2010. "The center of gravity for Al Qaeda was in the process of a fundamental shift from Pakistan to Syria," Joshua Geltzer, the former senior director for counterterrorism on Obama's national-security council, told me. And though the Trump Administration has presented its new policy as a correction to America's past failings in Pakistan, current and former national-security officials said it was the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism successes there, and Al Qaeda's corresponding weakness in Pakistan, which have enabled Trump to take a harder line. In short, Al Qaeda's operation in Pakistan just does not represent the threat it once did. The former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden declined to comment on, or even acknowledge, the C.I.A.'s drone program, but he told me that he applauded Trump's decision, and said, "He may be confident enough that we have sufficiently shaped the environment that the downsides are manageable."

Al Qaeda, however, is not the only terrorist group in Pakistan. Militants based there, particularly the Haqqani network, continue to carry out deadly attacks on civilians and Afghan and American forces in Afghanistan. White, the former South Asia adviser, said, "The outstanding list of Al Qaeda-affiliated figures is small. But the Haqqani list is moving in the other direction." And when American officials have asked the Pakistani military and intelligence officials to pressure the Haqqanis, White said, "They were at times minimally responsive, but we always hit a wall."

Trump's national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, has endorsed a harder line against Pakistan as part of a plan to reinvigorate the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Last year, McMaster saw a report by Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. (and of no relation to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan), titled "A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan." In it, Curtis and Haqqani argue that the Trump Administration should "stop chasing the mirage" that Pakistan might change its approach to confronting certain terrorist groups without the threat of withholding aid. "Pakistan is not an American ally," they write.

McMaster asked Curtis--an experienced Pakistan analyst who had worked at the C.I.A. and the State Department--to join the national-security council as the senior director for South and Central Asia. The paper she co-wrote with Haqqani has become the "blueprint" for Trump's Pakistan policy, according to a source familiar with the Administration's deliberations. After last week's suspension of aid, the question is, what next? In their paper, Curtis and Haqqani propose that the U.S. might threaten to designate Pakistan a "state sponsor of terrorism," which could cause a near-total rupture in relations between the two countries and, perhaps, even the sanctioning of current and former Pakistani officials.
Pentagon and State Department officials have resisted the new hard-line approach, citing the risk that Pakistan could cut off the land and air routes that the U.S. uses to supply American forces in Afghanistan. State Department officials were also reportedly blindsided by Trump's tweets last week. (Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly discouraged other Administration officials from issuing ultimatums. A senior defense official told me, of Mattis, "He's still making his case.") The senior Administration official disputed claims that the Defense and State Departments were not part of developing the new approach, and the characterization of Curtis and Haqqani's paper as the "blueprint" for the policy change. "There is a robust interagency process," the official told me. "There are many people involved in the policy process. There is a deliberative process."

More importantly, the official said, last week's announcement reflected the Trump Administration's "broader strategy" in Afghanistan: a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But, the official added, "We believe that so long as the Taliban and the Haqqani network feel they have a safe haven in Pakistan, they will be less motivated to come to the negotiating table."

Taliban leader approved Islamabad meeting on Afghan peace talks: sources (Sami Yousafzai, 1/17/18, Reuters) 

A delegation approved by the Taliban's supreme leader visited the Pakistani capital this week for exploratory talks on restarting peace negotiations to end Afghanistan's 16-year war, two senior officials in the movement said.

Posted by at January 17, 2018 6:37 PM

  

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