Chapter 1
Blowing Smoke
secret islamabad 002295
Money alone will not solve the problem of al-Qaeda or the Taliban
operating in Pakistan. A grand bargain that promises development or
military assistance in exchange for severing ties will be insufficient to
wean Pakistan from policies that reflect accurately its most deep-seated
fears. The Pakistani establishment, as we saw in 1998 with the nuclear
test, does not view assistance--even sizable assistance to their own
entities--as a trade-off for national security.--Anne Patterson, then
US ambassador to Pakistan, in a secret cable to the National Security
Council, September 23, 2009, disclosed by WikiLeaksOn a Sunday morning
in early October 2011, President Obama's national security adviser,
Tom Donilon, was driven through a wealthy suburb of Abu Dhabi. It was
the kind of backdoor, no-photos diplomatic mission he enjoyed most:
the quiet delivery of an urgent message directly from the president
of the United States. A decade after 9/11, Donilon was overseeing
the Obama administration's effort to end what he called the
messiest "unfinished business" of the Bush years: Iraq and
Afghanistan. Iraq was in its final chapter: in just a few months,
the last American troops would drive out of the country on the same
road they had driven in on, eight years before. Extracting Washington
from Afghanistan--the "war of necessity" as Obama used to
put it, before he reconsidered the phrase--was far more difficult. A
promising-sounding game plan, to train the Afghan troops to defend
their own country, was sputtering along. But precious few of the gains
American troops had fought for seemed permanent. Obama's aides
feared that the American withdrawal could lead to economic crisis and
a Taliban resurgence.Meanwhile, the relationship with the truly vital
player in the region, Pakistan, had entered into such a death spiral
there was a real possibility that American troops would be sent into
the territory of an ostensible ally to hunt down insurgents targeting
Americans.At fifty-six, his hair thinning a bit, Donilon looked like a
slightly disheveled version of the consummate Washington lawyer that he
was. He had risen through the ranks of the Democratic party as a superb
political operator. In his early twenties, he managed the convention floor
for Jimmy Carter; later he gained a reputation for getting presidential
candidates through their debates.Most of Washington knew Donilon as
a canny political strategist, and political combat certainly made him
tick. But the political world and the foreign-policy world in Washington
often operate in different orbits, and what many missed about Donilon
was his determination to live in both simultaneously. He dates that
decision back to one day when he was in his third year of law school
and had lunch with Warren Christopher, the deputy secretary of state,
whom he had gotten to know in the Carter administration."He came
to lunch with this book, and he pushed it across the table to me,"
Donilon recalled. "He said, 'Politics is the easiest and most
lucrative path for you. But you might consider another path.'"
The book was an old copy of Present at the Creation, an account of the
remaking of American national security after World War II, by Harry
Truman's secretary of state, Dean Acheson. Donilon took it home
and read it several times. (That copy is still on his bookshelf.)He
was hooked. For years, he could be seen carrying a battered L.L. Bean
tote bag home, overflowing with ponderous articles on foreign policy
and national security. When Christopher became Bill Clinton's
first secretary of state, he installed Donilon down the hall as his
chief of staff. And while Donilon returned to politics and law practice
during the Bush years, he was clearly itching to get back into the game,
constantly peppering old State Department colleagues, journalists, and
academics with questions about how America's actions were perceived
around the world.Now he was present at a different creation--the effort to
sustain and extend American power in a world of many more diverse threats,
and new competitors, than Acheson ever could have imagined. As national
security adviser, Donilon was the first person to brief the president
of the United States on national security challenges every morning--he
kept a precise count of how many such briefings he had done, a habit
endlessly provided by his staff--and relished special missions to deal
with the hardest cases. This was one of them.In Abu Dhabi, Donilon was
accompanied by two of the most central players in the effort to find an
exit from Afghanistan. One was the special assistant to the president
for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Douglas Lute, the wry retired general who
had served in the last two years of the Bush White House and stayed
on, quickly becoming Donilon's guide to the wily ways of Afghan
presidents, Pakistani generals, and the Pentagon bureaucracy. (Apart
from Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, Lute was the only source of
institutional memory in the White House for what had been tried, and what
had failed, during the Bush years.) The other man in the car was Marc
Grossman, Obama's recently appointed special envoy to Afghanistan
and Pakistan. A soft-spoken career diplomat, he agreed, after the death
of Richard Holbrooke, to take on one of the hardest jobs in Washington:
finding out whether there was a way to reach a political accommodation
with Mullah Mohammed Omar's Taliban, after ten years of war.For a
delegation of presidential envoys, it was a pretty unassuming motorcade:
a couple of unmarked vans, rumbling past homes that looked like they
belonged in Laguna Beach, one of the men later said. They were headed to
a town house that belonged to a local intelligence agency friendly to the
Pakistani government. It was the perfect place for a discreet meeting
with the embattled, oftentimes embittered, commander of the Pakistani
military forces: Gen. Ashraf Kayani.Kayani is the most powerful man
in Pakistan. When formal meetings with the Pakistanis were held for
the cameras, Americans would sit down with the Pakistani president or
prime minister and laud the arrival of a democratically elected civilian
government. That was almost entirely for show. When they wanted to get
something done, they ignored the civilians and called Kayani, who had
risen through the ranks to become chief of the country's elite spy
service, the ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence, before becoming the head
of the military. Kayani had clearly picked this venue so photographers
and reporters would not know that he had slipped into town--Abu Dhabi,
a favorite place for Pakistanis and Saudis making licit and illicit
deals.The meeting was Donilon's idea. After a year of crises--a
trigger-happy CIA agent gone wild, the bin Laden raid, and a virulent
rise of anti-Americanism--Donilon feared more trouble brewing. Just
weeks before, a car-bomb attack on an American base in Wardak Province
in Afghanistan had left seventy-seven Americans injured. A few days
later, an all-day attack on the American embassy in downtown Kabul,
with rocket-propelled grenades, forced Ambassador Ryan Crocker to seek
refuge in a basement safe room. Both attacks were quickly traced to
the Haqqani network, a group that existed in the netherworld between an
insurgent group and a criminal cartel, and lived unmolested in Pakistani
territory.After the attack, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, stood in front of the US Senate and delivered
remarks that would have likely gotten him fired if he were not already
halfway out the door. Mullen had been Obama's main interlocutor with
the Pakistani military, but now, frustrated that more than twenty visits
to the country had brought little change, he called the Haqqani network
a "veritable arm" of the ISI.When Obama heard that his top
military officer had made that charge in public, he was outraged--Mullen,
he thought, was trying to save his reputation, to go out of office in a
blaze of anger at the Pakistani military officers he had negotiated with
for years. Obama didn't contend that Mullen was wrong, although the
evidence that the ISI was directly involved in the attacks on Americans
was circumstantial at best. But he knew that the accusation, in such a
public setting, would trigger another round of recriminations with the
country that had become the ally from hell.When Donilon's team
arrived, Kayani was already in the house, chain-smoking his Dunhill
cigarettes. The out-of-the-way secrecy was pure Kayani, and the fact
that Obama decided to send a high-ranking delegation to see him, not
Pakistan's elected leadership, stroked his ego by reaffirming his
primacy. Only a few short months before, Kayani had refused to deal
seriously with the ambassadors and envoys from Washington--including
Grossman--making clear he thought he deserved someone of higher rank. That
would be Donilon, who played the role of secret interlocutor for Obama
with the leadership of China and Saudi Arabia. (In fact, he had just
come from a lengthy meeting in Riyadh with the Saudi king, trying to
tamp down Saudi outrage at the American stance during the protests
that ousted President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.) But Pakistan was his
toughest account.Kayani was nothing if not unpredictable. To him,
managing Americans meant following through with just enough promises
to keep the brittle US-Pakistani alliance from fracturing. Polite and
careful most of the time, he knew how to charm by offering up memories
from his years in officer training in the United States. At other times,
he was angry and bitter, lecturing the Americans about how often they
had promised the world to Pakistan and promptly abandoned the country
out of pique, anger, or a short attention span.Though the Americans
could have settled into a comfortable living room, Kayani insisted they
sit more formally at a table. The general was clearly not in the mood
for casual chitchat.Donilon opened the meeting where Mullen had left
off. "The ultimate responsibility of the president of the United
States is to protect Americans," Donilon said in his clipped Rhode
Island accent, reiterating something Obama had said to Kayani one day
in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Either Pakistan was going to
deal with the Haqqani network or the Americans would. The message just
sat there for a moment. Donilon went on. Why, he asked, would a man like
Kayani, who grew up in the disciplined world of the Pakistani military,
let a group of thugs hijack Pakistan's national security policy by
waging war on America from inside its borders?Then came the bottom line:
"I know you want a guarantee from us that we won't undertake
unilateral operations in your country again," a reference to the
bin Laden raid. "I can't give you that." If seventy
Americans had died in the bomb attack in Wardak the previous month,
rather than just suffered injuries, "we wouldn't be having
this conversation," Donilon said. It was a not-so-veiled threat
that Obama would have been forced to send Special Operations Forces into
Pakistan to attack the Haqqani network--national pride and sovereignty be
damned."We're at a crossroads," Donilon concluded. "If
this continues, you've really turned your fate over" to
the Haqqani network.When Donilon was finished, Kayani laid out his
demands--and the chasm between them was obvious. The United States, he
said, could never, ever again violate Pakistani sovereignty with an attack
like the one they launched on Osama bin Laden's compound. That
attack, he said, had been a personal humiliation. The Americans
responded with silence."That was the tensest moment," one of
the participants in the meeting noted, because it was an issue on which
the two countries were never going to agree. Kayani moved on to his other
concerns. The Americans were spending billions--approximately $12 billion
in 2011--training the Afghan military and police.Should Afghanistan
collapse someday in the near future--not an unlikely scenario--it would
leave an armed, angry force just across the Pakistani border, Kayani
said, many of them enemies of Pashtuns. And that would be a recipe for
disaster. The Pashtuns are Sunnis, and they are also Afghanistan's
largest ethnic group, about 40 percent of the population. But they live
on both sides of the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan,
a line of demarcation drawn from--and named after--Henry Mortimer
Durand, the British foreign secretary in the 1890s. The Durand line is
a completely arbitrary boundary, an artifact of the British colonial
era, that cuts straight through Pashtun tribal areas. The world may see
the Durand line as a border between two nations, but the Pashtuns sure
don't--particularly the Taliban. Today their leadership is living on
the Pakistani side. But Kayani recalled that in the '90s, when they
ruled Afghanistan, the Taliban systematically massacred non-Pashtun ethnic
groups--specifically the Hazara, a Shi'a minority that has close ties
with Iran.If things fell apart, Kayani insisted, the Pashtuns in both
Afghanistan and Pakistan could find themselves pitted against a force
armed and trained by the United States. Had the Americans thought about
that? Or the possibility that as the US forces pull out of Afghanistan,
India--which had already invested billions in the Afghan government--would
continue to extend its prowess in an effort to encircle Pakistan?Having
laid their cards on the table, the group of men went on to talk about
their visions for Afghanistan's future and their troubled effort
to negotiate with the Taliban. Donilon had sent ahead a document laying
out the long-term American strategy, including a plan to keep somewhere
between 10,000 and 15,000 American counterterrorism troops in Afghanistan,
mostly at Bagram Airfield, a large base just outside Kabul, "to
protect the interests of the US in the region." His meaning was
clear: the United States would remain, and its troops would be ready
to go over the Pakistani border if they needed to.It was a conversation
tinged with wariness on all sides, reflecting the distrust that permeated
a relationship fractured by decades of betrayals. To Kayani, the three men
in front of him represented a United States that had abandoned Pakistan
before--during its wars with India, after the Soviets left Afghanistan,
after Pakistan's nuclear tests. And to the Americans, the fact
that Kayani spent five and a half hours blowing the refined smoke of
his Dunhills into their faces said it all. The smoke cloud lingered,
enveloping the men in a fog.If Kayani wielded secondhand smoke as a
negotiating tool, it was one of the less lethal weapons at his disposal in
his treacherous climb to power. From 2004 to 2007, when he ran the ISI,
he excelled at managing what two successive American presidents came to
deride as Pakistan's "double game." The phrase referred
to Islamabad's habit of preserving its options by fighting on both
sides of the Afghan war. But the phrase was misleading. It understated
the complexity of Pakistan's position. Kayani's task was to
maintain Pakistan's tenuous, yet crucial, influence in Afghanistan
and convince his own people (and fellow generals) that he was not letting
the far more powerful India encircle Pakistan by expanding its presence
in Afghanistan unchallenged.