WASHINGTON (TIP): President Obama on Wednesday nominated career diplomat David Hale as the US ambassador to Pakistan amid continuous misgivings about the country’s commitment to fight terrorism, fueled by new disclosures that Islamabad tried to strike a deal with al Qaida and Osama bin Laden even as Washington was trying to hunt him down. Revelations in the Long War Journal, based on files recovered by US forces from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad, which were presented as evidence in a terrorism trial in New York, show the Pakistani intelligence establishment reaching out in 2010 to al Qaida through its jihadist proxies to cut a deal in which terrorists will spare Pakistan of attacks in exchange for immunity in Waziristan and other areas they are present in.
One of Pakistani intelligence’s emissaries was Fazlur Rehman Khalil, the longtime leader of Harakat ul Mujahedin (HUM, who was used to send al Qaida a letter.
”We received a messenger from them bringing us a letter from the Intelligence leaders including Shuja’ Shah, and others,” a bin Laden aide writes to the “Sheikh” as he calls bin Laden. ”They said they wanted to talk to us, to al Qaida. We gave them the same message, nothing more.”
Shuja Shah is believed to refer to Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a former ISI chief who was received in Washington around the same time in the belief that he and the Pakistani intelligence establishment were fighting al Qaida.
Despite copious accounts of Pakistani perfidy and terrorism sponsorship that US officials often talk about in private, successive US administrations routinely issue certifications about Pakistan’s fight against terrorism for public consumption. The Long War Journal disclosures in fact indicate that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif, went to the extent of seeking protection for Punjab (his home province) from terrorism without worrying too much about other provinces. Pakistan’s current foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz too has recently suggested Islamabad had no reason to fight with terrorist groups that were anti-American but did no harm to Pakistan.
The Obama administration is sending Hale into this complicated scenario. Indicative perhaps of Washington’s new policy of detaching Pakistan from South Asia as seeing it as a middle-east problem, Hale’s diplomatic experience is mostly in West Asia. He is currently the US ambassador in Lebanon, and previously served as the special envoy for Middle East peace from 2011-2013 and deputy special envoy for Middle East peace from 2009-2011. He was also the U.S ambassador to Jordan and has served in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.