The Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who was arrested a year ago for allegedly trying to help America find Osama bin Laden, then tortured by the Pakistani intelligence service, has told reporters that the ISI believes America is Pakistan’s enemy No. 1. Unfortunately, most Pakistanis probably agree with the ISI.
Afridi says he argued with his ISI interrogators that America is actually Pakistan’s friend, since it provides the country with more aid than anyone else. He’s right. Since 9/11, the United States has provided Pakistan with over $25 billion in military and economic assistance. The majority has gone to the Pakistani army. According to the Congressional Research Service, the aid disbursed since 9/11 totals $25,379,000. American weapons systems provided to the army include 18 F16s, eight P3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, 6,000 TOW anti-tank missiles, 500 AMRAM air to air missiles, six C130 transport aircraft, 20 Cobra attack helicopters, and a Perry-class missile frigate. About half the $25 billion was disbursed by President Bush and half by Obama, who has tried to increase the economic aid side. Only Israel has gotten more aid than Pakistan in the last decade.
But Pakistan also remains a critically important country. It will soon be the largest Islamic country in the world, bigger than Indonesia. It has the fastest- growing nuclear arsenal in the world. It borders on India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran, putting it at the center of world geopolitics. After four military dictators, all of whom got bipartisan American support, it is trying to establish a stable and effective democracy. Its president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been trying with little success for four years to bring the ISI under greater civilian control. We want his government to succeed.
Next week the foreign minister of Paksitan, Hina Rabbani Khar, is scheduled to visit Washington and meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. No breakthroughs should be expected. This relationship is tortured and troubled by 60 years of ugly history. America has betrayed Pakistan several times; Pakistan has betrayed America several times. The former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, has said it is time for a divorce. He is certainly right that it is time to dispel any illusions about this relationship and keep our expectations modest. But we have no choice other than to continue to engage even as we try to contain the worst excesses of the ISI.
Afridi makes one more interesting point. He says the hideout bin Laden was killed in was somewhat famous in Abbottabad, the city high-value target No. 1 lived in for his last five years. It even had a name, Waziristan House, after one of the most lawless districts along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The new book on the raid that killed bin Laden also reveals some interesting insights into the Pakistani military’s ties to the neighborhood. According to No Easy Day, Pakistani army helicopters routinely flew over Waziristan House on their way to and from the Pakistani military academy less than a mile from the hideout. The Kabul Military Academy is Pakistan’s West Point. All the top generals went to school there. It seems their flights over bin Laden’s hideout were so routine bin Laden would continue his pacing on the roof while they flew above. It seems clear he was not very worried about being found by the ISI.
But Afridi says his ISI interrogators said America is Pakistan’s biggest enemy, worse even than India. That is consistent with years of polling in Pakistan. A 2009 poll, before Obama increased drone strikes in Pakistan, showed 69% of Pakistanis had negative views of America. Only 7% felt America supported democracy in the Islamic world and 90% felt America wants to weaken and divide the Islamic world to help Israel and other enemies of Islam. A Gallup poll later that year showed more than half of Pakistanis view America as enemy No. 1. India was second at 18% and al Qaeda third at 11%. A 2010 poll showed Obama’s approval rating in Pakistan was 8%. A poll this June found 74% of Pakistanis believe America is the country’s top enemy, while 90% see China as their best friend.
And Afridi is right when he says Pakistan still supports groups like the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban that fight NATO forces in Afghanistan every day. The ISI has been backing the Taliban and Haqqani since the war began. A recent NATO study concluded that the ISI knows where every senior Taliban leader and his family lives in Pakistan, that the ISI has its own officers sitting on the Taliban top decision-making council, and that they help plan attacks on NATO targets each day. The ISI also remains the patron of the group that attacked Mumbai four years ago, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and killed six Americans in cold blood. The ISI routinely helps Lashkar leader Hafeez Saeed hold massive demonstrations in the country calling for jihad against America and praising Osama bin Laden as a martyr for Islam.