Back in the 1980's, when we in the CIA were helping the mujahidin resistance against the Soviets, we were constantly concerned that our "sanctuary" in Pakistan might be endangered - by Soviet air attacks, by terrorist attacks by Afghan proxies of the Soviets against Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, or even by incursions of Soviet land forces into Pakistan. Essentially it didn't happen, and instead the Soviets retreated. The last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.
Our sanctuary in Pakistan had been essential to the victory. American and Saudi-financed arms had been funneled through Pakistan to the Afghan mujahidin by the Pakistani military intelligence service (the ISI), with the support of the Pakistani Government at the highest level. Also, the ISI trained and staged the mujahidin from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Now the boot is on the other foot. It is the Pakistani sanctuaries that have become a major, if not the major problem for the United States' war in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Financial Times published on December 16th, Bill Harris, until recently the leading U.S. civilian official in Kandahar, said Washington's attempts to improve relations with Islamabad had failed to halt a steady stream of fighters from Pakistan over the past year: "We are on a bullet train to failure in Afghanistan if we try to fight this war to any kind of conclusion with Pakistan sanctuaries open."
What is to be done? It is not just a question of freedom of movement for insurgents going from Pakistan to Afghanistan and back again for rest and recuperation. It is that the ISI is aiding some of the insurgents inside Afghanistan: almost certainly the Haqqani network (which seems to have been involved one way or another in the suicide attack against the CIA base in Khost, as well as the Indian Embassy in Kabul); probably the Hekmatyar group (like the Haqqani's, a former mujahidin group); and even possibly the Afghan Taliban themselves. Bill Harris is quoted as saying: "We have put the government in Islamabad on a very rich diet of carrots for ten years and nobody should be surprised that they have developed a taste for it. I do believe that it's past time for some absolute straight talk in that bilateral relationship."
Straight talk may not be enough. It may be necessary to pick a public fight with Pakistan over this issue: to make it plain that we cannot go on this way, as Pakistan continues with its double game while American and coalition forces in Afghanistan suffer the consequences.
Significantly in this connection, the New York Times editorial page of December 17, had this to say about the Administration's Afghanistan Review, an unclassified version of which was released the previous day: "...there is no excuse for the review's failure to explain how the Administration plans to deal with two of its biggest problems: Pakistan's continued refusal to go after Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries, and the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government."
Charles Cogan was the chief of the Near East-South Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA from August 1979 to August 1984. It was this Division that directed the covert action operation against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He is now a historian and an associate of the Belfer Center's International Security Program at Harvard University's Kennedy School.