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Khalilzad flip flops on Pakistan, Taliban’s relationship with al Qaeda

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While testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in July 2016, Zalmay Khalilzad said that Pakistan should be designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because it is an ardent supporter of the Taliban. He described the Taliban as an “extremist organization” with enduring ties to al Qaeda.

Just over two years after his testimony, Khalilzad has completely reversed his views without explanation. Since being appointed to serve as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in Sept. 2018, he has showered praise on Pakistan for its supposed efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has even treated the Taliban as a credible counterterrorism partner.

Khalilzad made his remarks about Pakistan’s duplicitous role in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban’s ties to al Qaeda, during the July 12, 2016 hearing before the HFAC Subcommittees on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and on Asia and the Pacific. The committees asked if Pakistan was a “Friend or Foe in the Fight Against Terrorism?”

Khalizad’s verbal testimony can be viewed below. The full transcript and the question and answer session can be viewed here. [Note: Bill Roggio testified alongside Khalilzad.]

Khalilzad came down firmly on the side that Pakistan was a foe. He opened his remarks by calling for Pakistan to be designated by the US State Department as a terrorist nation:

First, Pakistan is now a State Sponsor of Terror. There is no question that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, the Inter-Service Agency, supports the Haqqani Network, which we regard–the United States has regarded as a terrorist organization. One of our former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs called the Haqqani Network a virtual arm of the ISI.     

He noted that Pakistan provides direct support for the Taliban, including “sanctuary.” He then went on to say that the Taliban is an “extremist organization,” pointing out that al Qaeda’s emir swore allegiance to the Taliban (which the Taliban accepted), and that the Taliban-al Qaeda “relationship continues.”

Point two, it is also clear that the Pakistani military and Pakistani intelligence provide sanctuary and support for the Taliban, which is an extremist organization that provided sanctuary for al-Qaeda in the early period, and even recently the leader of al-Qaeda, Zawahiri, pledged allegiance to the new leader of the Taliban. So the relationship continues.     

Khalilzad then noted that “Pakistani support for these two groups [the Taliban and the Haqqani Network] has been a critical factor in my judgment in the longevity and successes that these two groups have had against the United States, against our forces.” He relied not only on his research to draw this conclusion, but his experiences while serving as US Ambassador to Afghanistan from Nov. 2003 to July 2005.

He went on to criticize US policy of coddling Pakistan, and called for considering the removal of Pakistan’s Major Non-NATO Ally status and “strengthening cooperation with India on terrorism and counterterrorism and on strengthening Afghanistan.”

Khalilzad offered policy recommendations to pressure Pakistan to change its ways, but he noted that it was unlikely to work given US policy at that time. (Little has changed between now and then. The US has taken only minimal steps to punish Pakistan for its support of the Taliban and other terrorist groups.)

Importantly, Khalilzad concluded that Pakistan will wait out the US in Afghanistan and have a free hand to put the Taliban back in power.

… eventually we will tire out–we  will get tired, we will leave, and then they [Pakistan] can go back to imposing a Taliban government on Afghanistan, and the good days will be here again from their [Pakistan’s] perspective regionally …

A little after two years passed between his testimony and his appointment as US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation. US policy towards Pakistan changed little in that time. Despite an aggressive speech by President Trump in Aug. 2017 that called out Pakistan for its support of the Taliban and sought to strengthen US policy in Afghanistan and beat the Taliban into submission, the US government pushed for peace talks by 2018.

Today Khalilzad is praising Pakistan for “efforts to accelerate intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations” and said the nation “is committed to helping reduce violence in #Afghanistan.”

Khalilzad also claimed in March that the US and the Taliban “agreed in draft” that the Taliban would provide “counter-terrorism assurances” that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for terrorist groups to attack foreign countries.

Khalilzad has also said that he is satisfied with the Taliban’s commitment to keep Afghanistan from becoming a hub for international terrorism. This has been interpreted by supporters of his talks as evidence that the Taliban has renounced al Qaeda. To date, however, the Taliban has never renounced al Qaeda — despite being given multiple opportunities to do so since the 1990s. [See: Why the Taliban should be required to renounce al Qaeda in any deal with US.]

Khalilzad has not explained why his views have taken such dramatic turn, both with respect to his analysis of Pakistan and its support of the Taliban, and the Taliban-al Qaeda relationship.

Transcript of Zalmay Khalilzad’s verbal testimony before the HFAC Subcommittees on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and on Asia and the Pacific on July 12, 2016:

STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE ZALMAY KHALILZAD, COUNSELOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Ambassador Khalilzad. Thank you very much, Chairman. I want to thank the ranking member, the chairman of the Terrorism Subcommittee, and all the distinguished members who are here. I appreciate the opportunity to appear and to make a few comments on a very important and difficult subject, the issue of Pakistan.     

As you said, Chairman, it requires a deliberate but frank discussion and analysis of where we are and where we need to go. I have prepared a testimony, which I will submit for the record.  

Mr. Salmon. Without objection, your formal testimony will be injected into the record.     

Ambassador Khalilzad. I would like to summarize that testimony by making a few points and look forward to the discussion.     

While Pakistan, in the aftermath of 9/11, did provide significant help in the overthrow of the Taliban and in the capture of quite a number of al-Qaeda members, I think it fair to say that if one focuses on Afghanistan, which would be the burden of my comments today, looking at Pakistan, one can conclude now the following. 

First, Pakistan is now a State Sponsor of Terror. There is no question that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, the Inter-Service Agency, supports the Haqqani Network, which we regard–the UnitedStates has regarded as a terrorist organization. One of our former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs called the Haqqani Network a virtual arm of the ISI.     

Point two, it is also clear that the Pakistani military and Pakistani intelligence provide sanctuary and support for the Taliban, which is an extremist organization that provided sanctuary for al-Qaeda in the early period, and even recently the leader of al-Qaeda, Zawahiri, pledged allegiance to the new leader of the Taliban. So the relationship continues.     

And these two steps that Pakistan clearly has taken—it used to deny that there were any Taliban in Pakistan. When I was Ambassador to Afghanistan, when I went to see President  Musharraf, and after a long discussion when I raised the issue  of the Taliban with him, he asked me, “They are not here. Give  me their phone number. Give me their address.” I had to remind him that the leadership of the Taliban was called the Quetta Shura, which, you know, is a big Pakistani city, and there is  also—there was Peshawar Shura, which is another big city in  Pakistan, and the media regularly went and interviewed some of these people.     

But, in any case, as you know, more recently he has boasted, Mr. Musharraf, that he did obviously help the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. But the Pakistani support for these two groups has been a critical factor in my judgment in the longevity and successes that these two groups have had against the United States, against our forces.     

We have lost quite a lot of people, as you know, military in particular, but also non-military folks, and they have imposed huge financial costs by making the war prolonged and significant, requiring us to invest not only life but also resources, and it has imposed huge costs also, both military and civilian, on the Afghans.     

Those of us who have studied insurgencies and counter insurgencies, if there is a sanctuary, it makes it much harder, it takes longer, becomes more protracted to defeat that insurgency. I am not saying other factors are not important; they are. I mean, the question of governance, policies of the government in charge, but sanctuaries make it much harder to defeat insurgencies.     

So it seems to me that our policy, if I would characterize it, as one of engagement, providing support, sometimes withholding some assistance, but one of assistance, has not produced what we had hoped would be the result in Pakistan, which is that they would change policy to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and move against those Taliban that are not reconcilable or would not reconcile and then also to move against the Haqqani Network. This has not happened.     

So, as a nation, in my view, it is important that we debate what to do next. And I believe that we need to consider a different policy among our options, and the policy that I think is worthy of consideration is one of increasing the cost of this policy to Pakistan.     

You know, typically, when you want to discourage bad behavior, you have to do things that look like punishment or imposing costs to shape a response. And Pakistan has believed so far correctly that they can get aid, billions,  and get support and continue to do these things, and that we would not  confront them with the choice of either you take our assistance  or–and you can stop what you are doing or there will be no  assistance.     

And I think unless we effect fundamentally that calculus, that they confront the choice, it is unlikely that they would adjust the policy that we require, that the Afghans require, and indeed the world requires. I welcome some of the recent announcement by the administration and some of the actions, such as the drone attack against Mullah Mansour in Pakistan, I think that sent a strong message.     

I believe that the administration’s effort to isolate Pakistan, to pressure it more, is welcome, but I think it is insufficient. We need to do more. And more, in my judgment, is, one, we need to do additional drone attacks against targets that are Haqqani and Taliban related.     

If Pakistan does not move against the Haqqani Network and the irreconcilable Taliban, we need to have, in my judgment, very sharply focused sanctions against people in these two institutions, the military, especially the Army, and the intelligence network, were involved in support of the Haqqani  Network and the Taliban, and that would mean financial sanctions and, in my view, also it means travel to the United States.     

I think we ought to suspend all non-humanitarian and non-education assistance to Pakistan. I agree with the ranking member that education is very important, and we ought to  continue with educational assistance, humanitarian assistance, but non-education, not only our own, but in IMF I think we need to use our influence there to make sure that the next package that is likely to come up later this summer or early fall does not go through without Pakistan taking the necessary measures  with regard to these two groups.     

I also think we ought to consider, deliberate, debate whether Pakistan should not be put on the list, State Department list of sponsors of terrorism. Factually, it is. Now, the question is, what are the pros and cons? And I think there are costs for us not doing this, because the whole less than problem becomes–loses its legitimacy when a state clearly is doing something and we are not calling a spade a spade, and that has its own cost.     

And I also believe that calling Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, given what it is doing, also raises questions of the legitimacy of such a designation. We ought to signal that without a change on these two issues we would recalibrate, reconsider that designation.     

And I would think that we ought to also, as we do with regard to North Korea, a country that has nuclear weapons but has many hostile and negative domestic and external policies, consider as to when we might take the whole issue to the Security Council, in collaboration with the Afghans, to expose–we have not done as much as we could, in my view, to expose the details of how this policy of support for Haqqani and for the Taliban are actually conducted by Pakistan and the implications, the ramifications of that in terms of the amount of damage it has done to fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, besides the killings that have taken place of the coalition forces who are there.     

I think also, as we think down the road, given that Pakistan may choose not to respond favorably to this, we need to look at the strengthening cooperation with India on terrorism and counterterrorism and on strengthening Afghanistan, that it can be hardened as–my judgment is that if we do the steps that I have described, it is not out of the question that Pakistan might reconsider, because I think if we can shake this belief that they have that they can continue to be both the beneficiary of U.S. assistance and continue to do what they are doing with regard to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, with the view that eventually we will tire out–we  will get tired, we will leave, and then they can go back to  imposing a Taliban government on Afghanistan, and the good days will be here again from their perspective regionally, we will have to look at other ways with others who share our perspective on terrorism, particularly India. And I just was  there last week, very serious discussions, I think we will need to take a look at this.   

I understand, Mr. Chairman, as a final point, that this is not an easy issue. The administration that I was a part of, we tried engagement, too, and assistance in the golden hour after 9/11 when our credibility was high, we didn’t push as hard Pakistan at that time, as we should have.     

I think another golden hour may have become available after the killing of Mullah Mansour, but by itself I think it is insufficient. We need to get Pakistan’s attention, and that things are different, that they do need to make a choice, and I recommended the steps that I did for your consideration. Thank you, Chairman.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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