In yet another day of public criticism of Pakistan, the top U.S. military officer told reporters he was “extraordinarily dissatisfied” with Pakistan’s continued toleration of Afghan insurgents.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has spent seven years working with the Pakistanis on counterterrorism, wasn’t uniformly negative. He praised Pakistan’s own efforts in its insurgent-laden tribal areas. But he said it was “frustrating” that the Pakistanis remain unconvinced that Afghan insurgents like the Haqqani network represent threats that need confrontation.
“The Haqqani network is as big a threat to Pakistan as it is to Afghanistan and us, but we haven’t been able to find common ground on that point,” Dempsey said on Thursday. “That’s been very frustrating.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday acknowledged on Wednesday that the U.S. is at war in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal areas. When Danger Room asked, Dempsey declined to second that view, saying instead that the U.S. is at war with al-Qaida wherever it goes.
“Pakistan, with us, is at war in the FATA with other groups,” Dempsey said. “Although we are extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect the Pakistanis have had on the Haqqanis, we are mindful that they are conducting military operations at great losses.”
Diplomatic as Dempsey may have been, there’s no denying that this week marks an escalation in the U.S.’ willingness to call out Pakistan publicly. Previous criticism of the Pakistanis has been muted and saved for frequent shuttle diplomacy. That started to change last September, when Dempsey’s predecessor, Adm. Mike Mullen, who took that shuttle for years, called out Pakistan for sponsoring the Haqqanis.
Dempsey’s boss, Panetta, ratcheted that up this week. First he called on Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, to step up its involvement in Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers its backyard. Then, for the first time, he spoke openly and without euphemism about the U.S. waging war in Pakistan. To top it off, Panetta said he was “reaching the limits of our patience” with Pakistan and likened the U.S. to India, which has fought three wars with a country the U.S. officially designates a Major Non-NATO Ally.
Dempsey didn’t go as far, and he cushioned the blow. But even while the Pentagon insists it wants a productive, long-term relationship with Pakistan, it looks like it’s lost interest in holding its tongue so as not to offend the sensibilities of its frenemy. And with the U.S. about to push into the heart of Haqqani territory later this year, that may intensify.
“The urgency, I suppose, is increasing for two reasons,” Dempsey said. “One, we’ve got to get [eastern Afghanistan] and the Haqqani influence [there] reduced in order to meet our timelines for transition that we’re moving toward at the end of ’14. Number two, Haqqani’s become more active.”