The Wrong Enemy (America in Afghanistan 2001- 2014) by Carlotta Gall, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: New York, 2014, ISBN 978-0-544-046696, 352 pp., $28.00 (Hardcover), $15.12 (Kindle).
There has been a perceptible shift in opinion regarding Pakistan and the nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in the last few years. It can be seen in a plethora of books and articles critically examining Pakistani policy, especially in regards to Pakistani support for international terrorism, the restoration of a Taliban government in Afghanistan, and Islamic extremism inside Pakistan itself. Hussain Haqqani’s Magnificent Delusions, published in 2013, advocated a scrapping of any pretense of an US/Pakistan “alliance.” Although Haqqani’s principal policy recommendation is a radical move, his characterization of the Pakistani military and civilian establishment was relatively guarded and restrained compared to what we find in The Wrong Enemy.
It is now a year later, and the shift has continued, and Carlotta Gall’s Wrong Enemy, takes the debate one step further. Gall covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for over 10 years for the New York Times. Her father, a British telejournalist, covered the same region a generation earlier, and Gall grew up with Afghanistan and its agony. Gall gained initial access to Afghans through the personal relationships established by her father. She then built on them, until she knew everyone there was to know. Her account is a personal 10-year odyssey. She has an inside track and knows about many of the skeletons hidden in American and Pakistani closets. She has also been unrelenting in her search for the truth. At times, her firsthand account is hair-raising. This is a dangerous region and Gall has been in danger more times than I care to count.
For those of us with long experience working on Afghanistan, her account of American missteps and miscalculations is no great revelation. American Afghan policy, and American policy in the South Asian region generally, can be characterized as a continuing series of errors, piled one on top of the other. As the US moves to deal with one problem, it only exacerbates the previous one, and the negative impact keeps growing and growing. Afghanistan has been devastated several times over since the United States first decided to become deeply involved in the Reagan Administration, while Pakistan has lurched from Democracy to military dictatorship and back again and its economy continues to slide downhill.
Luckily, Gall does not spend a lot of time detailing American error. This has been well covered in extensive detail in a long procession of books by esteemed scholars and journalists. Where The Wrong Enemy breaks new ground is in its detailed investigation into Pakistani behavior. Gall makes some very serious allegations in this book. She alleges that the Pakistani security state, consisting of the Army and Inter-Services Intelligence and other intelligence agencies, has always supported terrorism and abused human rights. She further alleges that this group never intended to honor its commitments to the United States, and was perfectly happy to support terrorists that attacked and killed Americans.
The talk has always been about Pakistan playing a “two-sided game,” in which it signed on to the “Global War on Terror (GWOT)” and an alliance with the United States, while continuing to support terrorism and undermine American foreign policy. Until now, however, observers have been willing to withhold judgment regarding the level of Pakistani involvement. Most have stated that the byzantine web of intrigue surrounding the Pakistani power structure and Pakistani involvement in dirty tricks and deceit was too difficult to unravel. Whenever Pakistan has been linked to terrorism (for example in the bloody 2008 attack on Mumbai, India), the Pakistani government has denied any knowledge or role and blamed the outrages on “rogue agents,” from ISI.
Gall is unequivocal in stating that this is pure deception. She alleges in The Wrong Enemy, that the highest levels of the Pakistani armed forces (which in a praetorian state like Pakistan is the same as the highest levels of government) authorized almost all of the operations. In the case of Mumbai, she states that the terrorists “used an attack plan originally drafted by the ISI.”1 This, she asserts, is true of the long string of attacks on Afghan, Indian, and American targets. Quoting Afghan intelligence reports based on information provided by agents planted within the terrorist groups, she writes that:
“Intelligence officials of Pakistan were clearly collaborating with the militants and suicide bombers attacking targets in the Afghan capital. Almost every attack was traced back to Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, to the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the two militant organizations operating there with the closest ties to ISI.”2
Most Indians and Afghans have long accepted this as fact, but American policymakers (who may privately share the same conclusions), have been loath to make such statements in public. One exception was Admiral Mike Mullen. While still Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mullen testified under oath before Congress “Pakistan was aiding terrorism and deserved sanction. He described the Haqqani network as ‘a veritable arm’ of the ISI.”3
Mullen went on to state that:
“They may believe that by using these proxies, they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power. But in reality, they have already lost that bet. By exporting violence, they’ve eroded their internal security and their position in the region. They have undermined their international credibility and threatened their economic well-being.”4
What for American readers are probably the most shocking assertions of all are Gall’s judgments regarding Pakistani involvement with Osama bin-Laden and al Qaeda. Gall uses what she says are statements from Pakistani insiders to confirm that Pakistan continued to support al-Qaeda, even after joining the GWOT and helping US intelligence arrest leading al-Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan. Perfectly happy to provide refuge for the Al Qaeda leadership, ISI arranged, she alleges, to construct a safe-haven for Osama bin-Laden right next door to the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbotabad, where he was subsequently killed by US Navy Seals. ISI purportedly managed OBL through a compartmented office at ISI headquarters, and the relationship was known to the top Pakistan Army and government leadership and was carried on at their behest.
The same holds true, says Gall, when it comes to the Taliban. While purportedly allied with the United States in its efforts to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been providing safe-haven for the entire “Quetta Shura.” When Pakistani journalists become aware of this fact, they are repeatedly threatened, harassed, and beaten into silence, and “in the worst cases,” murdered.
The reasoning behind the elaborate subterfuge is the Pakistan Army’s dedication to “strategic depth,” its belief that it must have a “friendly” Taliban government in power in Afghanistan to prevent “encirclement” by what it believes is a hostile India bent on Pakistan’s destruction. The Pakistan Army, she asserts, will never relent on this point, and is presently waiting out the departure of western forces, before infiltrating the Taliban leaders into Afghanistan and reigniting a civil war.
If there is any good news in Gall’s narrative of unrelenting violence and deception, it is her assessment that the Taliban has taken a serious beating in its war against the Afghan government. She describes firsthand statements by Taliban commanders that they are tired of the bloodshed, see little hope of reclaiming power in Kabul, even after the departure of Western forces, and have begun to resent the constant pressure from Pakistani handlers to conduct “jihad” in Afghanistan.
The bad news is that Pakistan remains wedded to these policies even after they have reverberated on Pakistan itself. The terrorist groups created and nurtured by Pakistani intelligence have now turned their wrath on the very same Army and ISI that worked so closely with them for decades. Despite this, says Gall, the Pakistani military establishment seems incapable of admitting error, changing course, and divorcing itself from its deadly clients.
Gall’s depiction of a military unwilling to take on its Islamist clients, even after they have started murdering innocent Pakistani and Pakistani soldiers, is chilling. It leads Gall to a bleak prognosis. The United States and its allies have spent trillions of dollars to develop Afghanistan, and create an Afghan military capable of fending off the anticipated Taliban attack. All of this, she states, could potentially amount to naught, however, if Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary, funding, training and weapons, to the Taliban, al Qaeda and an mélange of jihadi groups.
The purported reason for the US invasion of Afghanistan was to destroy al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the largest terrorist attack against the United States in American history. This goal will never be attained, Gall says, because even if defeated in Afghanistan, the jihadis can always slip back into Pakistan, rebuild, regroup and try again. This is a depressing cycle of recurring terrorism that could go on indefinitely, unless the United States publicly acknowledges the Pakistani role, demonstrates to the world the extent of Pakistani support to terrorism, and the attack on human rights within Pakistan by its intelligence agencies, and moves to deny these sanctuaries.
The Wrong Enemy is a gripping journalistic account. As a journalist, Gall has spent years cultivating sources and gaining access to sensitive information. Her long years of tireless hard work seemed to pay off. She makes some strong accusations in her account. Her critics will argue that in the picture she paints, the Pakistanis come off looking like the bad guys, while the Afghans are the victims of Pakistani intrigue. Gall lived primarily in Afghanistan during her 10-year stint and worked very closely with Afghans that she obviously cares about and admires. Some of her data has been provided to her by the intelligence agency of Afghanistan, which has its own vested interests. Critics will argue that Gall may suffer from “clientitis” and is perhaps too willing to believe her Afghan sources at the expense of the Pakistanis.
Is The Wrong Enemy the account that will settle this argument and get the United States to shift its Pakistan policy? This book, written by a journalist and based on information provided by her sources, cannot, by definition, answer all the questions. The Pakistan story has become mired in covert actions on top of more covert actions. Intelligence agencies have come to play an oversized role in this region. They are very good at building “plausible deniability” into their policy decisions and covert programs. Classified material in the hands of different governments likely paints an even more compelling picture of the extent of Pakistani involvement in terrorism, human rights abuse, and double-dealing.
Gall paints a compelling picture and many will be convinced by her presentation. Others will continue to withhold judgment. They will only be convinced if they see detailed and well-corroborated intelligence reports documenting Gall’s assertions. When does the shift become so profound that Pakistan can no longer deny the accusations? Perhaps the ground will shift under everyone’s feet. Maybe the Taliban leadership will itself decide that it no longer wants to play the Pakistani game. Maybe the Taliban will face a revolt from within its own ranks that will compel it to accept reconciliation offers from the Afghan government, give up the insurgency and convert into a political party.
Even if many readers will discount her work and her conclusions, Gall has made a great contribution to this ongoing debate.