Recent interviews by Admiral Mike Mullen have had a consistent theme. The ISI continues to fund terrorist organizations like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar e Taiba. However, his analysis as to where and how to combat and eliminate this ongoing problem lies on the eastern Pakistani border with India, and not Afghanistan.
Recently, on National Public Radio in Washington DC, Admiral Mike Mullen said, “The ISI specifically has enough support for the Haqqani’s in terms of financial support, logistic support—and actually, sort of free passage in the safe haven—and those links are part of what enable the Haqqani’s to carry out their mission.” As Admiral Mullen continues spelling out for the public the long history of not only the relationship between the Haqqani network and the Inter Intelligence Services, but other militant factions such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, the soon to be retiring military chief continues to remind policy makers that real progress must be initiated on the civilian side, and not just fighting an insurgency. The irony of this focus is that the real solutions, according to Admiral Mullen, are on the eastern border with India, rather than in the northwest territories of Pakistan. “I’ve said for a long time: I think unlocking Kashmir, which is a very difficult issue on the Pak-Indian border, is one that opens it all up.”
Kashmir remains the Pakistani genesis of utilizing Islamist militant groups as not only proxies, but more specifically as “weapons” against India, in what is commonly known in security circles as Pakistan’s “Bleed India” campaign. The use of militant groups as proxies has gone ignored by the United States despite constant attacks against India. However, now that the ISI militancy connection stretches across both the Indian and Afghanistan borders of Pakistan, Admiral Mullen continues to seek the necessary civilian solutions between the three nation states as the key to solving this problem for all countries. “Engagements with the civilian leaders, engagements with the economic leaders, engagements in the region, I believe we have to continue to try to, all of us, figure out a way to work that as well,” Mullen observed. The folly in this whole plan to this point remains with India, whose constant refusal of outside intervention or mediation and framing the problem as an “internal issue.”
Admiral Mullen obviously understands that the only way to possible peace in the region is through tri-partite agreement between leadership in Islamabad, Kabul, and especially New Delhi. The Indians need to come to the realization at some point that they must finally show some flexibility in the Kashmir Issue. Moreover, those flexibilities must begin by including the involvement of the various Kashmiri leaders in the discussions. Even if their representation were presented as an “observer” status, it would go a long way with garnering greater public support. From establishment politicians like Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Mahooba Mufti, to separatist leaders like Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Sajad Lone, their inclusion will show the Kashmiri people that India and Pakistan are serious in this round of talks. Additionally, this will be necessary for both India and Pakistan to finally extract the tangible results they desire in solving the conflict, by including those who hold leadership positions among the varying constituencies in the battle hardened region. Utilizing the influence these individuals hold among their constituencies can gain the necessary traction with the local populations who are the most susceptible to influence and intimidation by outside groups. Should this level of cooperation actually occur, the truth behind Admiral Mullen’s claims will come to fruition.
The greatest way in which India and Pakistan can gain this public support is via the truth and reconciliation avenue. India obviously has concerns for possible prosecution of war crimes, if not crimes against humanity given the extent of mass graves being found throughout the valley of Kashmir. The reason for the inclusion of the various leadership factions within the Kashmiri populations as well plays into this scenario given their ability to sell an agreement to the people who lack the necessary trust in Indian and Pakistani leadership.
All Kashmiri leaders have at one point or another either supported terrorist elements and/or participated in attacks not only against Indian troops, but the civilian population as well. By participating in seeking solutions, it will undercut the call to jihad by groups they once supported by rendering this call mute. This acknowledgement will also lend a hand to the Pakistani establishment to finally come clean with regards to how deep down the rabbit hole ISI-terrorist ties actually reach.
However, it may surprise outsiders just how far this type of “kumbaya” moment would bring in terms of public support, and establishing trust and faith in their leaders that a just and open society can be achievable. By including the long relationship with groups in Kashmir, it will without a doubt extend to the activities adversely affecting the stabilization of Afghanistan. The two are inextricably linked to one another, and will finally reduce the power and influence of these groups in the entire region.
Obviously, there are elements within the ISI who do in fact aid and support terror outfits; they have done so in plain sight for the past two decades, mainly in the region of Kashmir. This longstanding public acceptance in Pakistan, as well as indirectly funded either blindly or knowingly, via US military appropriations to Pakistan, makes breaking the linkages all the more dire for the Pakistani authority. Should the Pakistani government wish to continue to receive the billions in aid from the United States for non-military related purposes, these steps are the most necessary. There is widespread recognition that these connections within the ISI are at a mid to high level within the organization, whose main purpose is to cause problems for India. This reality is exacerbated by the conflict with India remaining totally ingrained in the psyche of all Pakistani military and intelligence personnel.
It is only in the last five years that Pakistani and Kashmiri groups expanded their jihadi efforts against the United States and coalition forces in the region. However, these groups were key to transportation and safe passage in the region to outside groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and so their involvement in Afghanistan was only a matter of time. Given this primary directive, engaging the Indian and Pakistani officials to legitimately explore all possible amicable solutions to the six decade old conflict would make the extraction of such groups that much more achievable without the concern of full civil war in Pakistan. It is through these means that public support will be the most possible and sustainable. Admiral Mullen is quick to point out that this multi-pronged approach to solving the problems of the region will not happen in the short term. “I just think those links have to be broken. I don’t believe they can be broken overnight, but if they’re broken, I think that fundamentally changes the viability of that safe haven and the overall strategy.” Let’s hope that the Admirals view will be taken seriously, and not just the words of an outgoing military head who feels he can now speak freely due to the coming end to his tenure.