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Gen. Keane: America’s ‘Soft Approach’ to Pakistan Has Failed

September 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Three bloody attacks in Afghanistan claimed many lives recently, but the greatest casualty may be the U.S. alliance with Pakistan. Margaret Warner discusses growing diplomatic tensions with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and Vali Nasr, former senior adviser to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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MARGARET WARNER: Late today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added to the warnings, saying, “The Pakistani government needs to take action to deal with the links that exist there.” Carney also said, “We are obviously always reviewing our aid programs” when asked if the U.S. might curtail its aid to the Pakistani military over this.

For more, we turn to retired Army Gen. Jack Keane. He was Army vice chief of staff when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. He now has his own consulting firm. And Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, he also served as senior adviser to U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke from 2009 to 2011.

And welcome back, gentlemen, both of you.

Vali Nasr, beginning with you, most Americans know what the Taliban is, but explain, if you could, what is this Haqqani Network and what is its objective?

VALI NASR, former State Department official: The Haqqani Network was born actually during the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation of that country. It was one of the mujahideen factions.

And after the end of the Soviet occupation, it gradually metamorphosed into quite a vicious, lethal insurgent group that in recent years has developed ties with al-Qaida and also has a tight relationship with the Taliban. It is situated in sanctuaries in North Waziristan, which is in Pakistani territory, and then operates from there into eastern Afghanistan and then now, as we can see, all the way to the capital, Kabul.

MARGARET WARNER: And what is its aim?

VALI NASR: Its aim is to fight the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and also to promote the Taliban agenda in that country, first in southern Afghanistan, controlling its own territory in the east, but also to destabilize the Karzai government.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Gen. Keane, first of all, is it a given that what Adm. Mullen said is true, that they — the Haqqani Network is supported by Pakistani’s military and ISI?

And if that’s the case, why? Why, when Pakistan is cooperating with the U.S., at least ostensibly, in the whole Afghan conflict, is it funding such a really — as Vali Nasr said, a vicious group that really makes, has a real skill in targeting U.S. and Afghan forces?

GEN. JACK KEANE, (RET.) U.S. Army: Well, the Pakistani military oligarchy has been supporting not only the Haqqani Network through sanctuaries in Pakistan, but also the Taliban through sanctuaries south of Kandahar also in Pakistan.

And this has been a known fact, that the military leadership of Pakistan has been complicit in aiding and in abetting the Haqqani Network and the Taliban for years. Why are they doing it? They’re doing it because they have never accepted the fact that the United States is serious about its commitments in Afghanistan.

And they have been very concerned geopolitically about what would happen with a weak government in Afghanistan, which they see the Karzai government, unduly influenced by India, which they’re concerned about it.

MARGARET WARNER: Their archrival.

GEN. JACK KEANE: That’s exactly right — and eventually the Taliban regaining control as the United States exits.

So they have had their strategic interest here as far as they’re concerned is to minimize the risk of that undertaking.

MARGARET WARNER: So, why did Adm. Mullen — as you said, this has been known for years and talked about it privately. Why did Adm. Mullen come out and say this publicly?

VALI NASR: Well, first of all, what Adm. Mullen said was only the latest of a number of public complaints by the United States about Pakistan’s alleged support for extremist groups.  

MARGARET WARNER: But blunter than anything…

VALI NASR: Blunter and at a higher level and then in front of the U.S. Senate, so it has a lot more weight associated with it.

The way it’s interpreted, that this is a major shift in U.S. policy, because, as you mentioned, none of this is new. We knew it all along, but we always calculated that you have to deal with this issue privately, on the assumption that we need certain basic stability in Pakistan-U.S. relations if we are to achieve even the minimal goals that we have in Afghanistan.

And now the United States has decided to actually shift this calculus and deal with this issue publicly. And, therefore, you have these public statements by high-level American officials.

MARGARET WARNER: So what, General, can the U.S. do about it? I mean, one, what do you think of Adm. Mullen saying this publicly? Where does this lead? And, two, I mean, the U.S. has been saying for a long time Pakistan has to do more. What can actually the U.S. do now?

GEN. JACK KEANE: Well, first of all, I think it’s a recognition that the relationship is changing.

We have tried to what I call the so-called soft approach, which is confronting the leadership, Pakistani leadership, with this evidence for a number of years. They have been denying it for all of those years as well. I mean, they have been lying in our face, just like the Soviets lied in our face for years.

The reality, I think, began to fundamentally shift after the U.S. — we took Osama bin Laden down. And the harsh reality, I think, the leaders don’t talk about it publicly, but the fact of the matter is the military oligarchy was shielding bin Laden for five years. It seems pretty obvious, although we may not have the case on it.

That made us begin the shift. And I think the other thing that is causing the shift in policy, frankly, is, from a military perspective and Department of Defense perspective, the president’s, what I consider, premature withdrawal of surge forces puts at risk the mission that we’re conducting right now against the Haqqani Network. And it puts at a premium pulling Pakistani support from that network or conducting military operations against that sanctuary in Pakistan.

And I think these realities are forcing a shift in our policy and why you have such a public declaration by a high government official.

MARGARET WARNER: So where does the U.S. go from here?

VALI NASR: I don’t think there is a very clear game plan, the reason being, as Gen. Keane said, that we already have made a decision to withdraw our troops, which removes our leverage.

And, at the same time, the Pakistanis are not likely to respond to pressure, because the stakes in Afghanistan for them is very high. What they want is to be included in our thinking about how we’re going to finish this war and what will replace a U.S. departure from Afghanistan.

And until they get that access, which we may not be willing to give it to them, they’re not likely to change course. The problem is — in my opinion, is that everything that we have calculated about Afghanistan, our strategy up to date and even our exit strategy, has been premised on the assumption of certain stability in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

And if that stability isn’t there, as we are seeing that it’s collapsing today, that puts to question a lot of the assumptions that we have going forward in Afghanistan. This is not only about U.S.-Pakistan relations. It really puts to question U.S.’ position in Afghanistan. And we have to rethink our schedule of exit, our ability to exit if we are going down a path of confrontation with Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree that taking this path puts the whole schedule at risk in Afghanistan?

GEN. JACK KEANE: It does.

But I also agree that it’s time to really confront the Pakistanis about this kind of behavior, what it’s meant for us. I mean, frankly, it’s quite outrageous in terms of the lives that we have lost as a result of this complicity and how it’s protracted the war.

And I think we should be really put some conditions on the table to affect their behavior, so we — I’m not suggesting to give up on the relationship. I’m just suggesting we change the terms of the relationship.

MARGARET WARNER: Be more specific. Are you talking about the aid?

GEN. JACK KEANE: I’m talking about aid. I’m talking about the influence we have with the World Bank and IMF. I’m talking about our influence with other countries in the region, to include Saudi Arabia and other countries that have influence over Pakistan, that we start to turn those wheels to gain some influence over them.

The soft approach that we have been trying for years has failed.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think the U.S. has this leverage?

VALI NASR: U.S. has the leverage, but we also have to be clear what is our objective. And many of the things that the general mentions requires us to stay there, to have stamina, to have perseverance, and see this through.

Pakistan will more than likely not respond in the short run to pressure of aid or diplomatic pressure. And we have to be willing to apply this pressure over time. We also have to be clear what is our short-term objective? Is it to get out of Afghanistan quickly and with relative degree of quiet and stability, or is it to fundamentally change Pakistan’s behavior, so that that region will have peace and stability in the long run?

And these two things are not necessarily on — within the same policy framework right now. And I think we have to choose.

MARGARET WARNER: So you don’t think we have gone down the path of no return?

VALI NASR: With Pakistan?

MARGARET WARNER: With what Mullen said?

VALI NASR: No, I think we are in a very different place with Pakistan. And it’s very difficult to undo what has happened. So we have opened something, but we have to see it through now.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Vali Nasr, Gen. Jack Keane, thank you both.

VALI NASR: Thank you.