Passport

Are the Haqqanis next on Pakistan's hit list?

New York Times journalist David Rohde's account of his kidnapping and subsequent escape from Taliban militants affiliated with the Haqqani network in North Waziristan region of Pakistan makes for riveting reading. It's an amazing story, and one has to admire Rohde's fortitude and survival instincts during his seven-month ordeal.

Read all of it, but I just have one comment about this bit from the epilogue:

My suspicions about the relationship between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani military proved to be true. Some American officials told my colleagues at The Times that Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, turns a blind eye to the Haqqanis' activities. Others went further and said the ISI provided money, supplies and strategic planning to the Haqqanis and other Taliban groups.

Pakistani officials told my colleagues that the contacts were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan to prevent India, Pakistan's archenemy, from gaining a foothold. One Pakistani official called the Taliban "proxy forces to preserve our interests."

Meanwhile, the Haqqanis continue to use North Waziristan to train suicide bombers and bomb makers who kill Afghan and American forces. They also continue to take hostages.

We'll see how long this relationship holds, but if you need any convincing that the ISI at least tacitly allows the Haqqani folks to do their thing unmolested, consider this: To get to South Waziristan, where the Pakistani Army is engaged in a fierce battle with the Pakistani Taliban around the Makin area, which is dominated by the Mehsud tribal grouping, some units had to drive through North Waziristan. In fact, they drove right through the center of Miram Shah, the regional capital and Haqqani stronghold where Rohde made his escape -- and there was just one isolated IED attack along the way.

What does that tell us? At a minimum, it tells us that the powers that be in North Waziristan are being very cooperative and not coming to the Mehsuds' aid. And supposedly, the Haqqanis and their local allies, led by another Pakistani Taliban leader named Hafiz Gul Bahadar, have explicitly pledged not to interfere. The Pakistani military has struck a number of much-criticized peace deals with Bahadar over the last few years, and some say the security establishment in Rawalpindi is all too happy to keep this relationship alive so long as the Haqqanis and Bahadar only launch attacks in Afghanistan, not at home.

American officials have been hinting in recent weeks, however, that the Pakistani military is simply tackling one challenge at a time -- the Mehsuds -- and the Haqqanis may be next on their hit list. That's certainly what AfPak envoy Richard Holbrooke and Amb. Ann Patterson seem to be telling Frontline, though one can detect a little daylight between the two U.S. diplomats. In Holbrooke's words, the Pakistanis "are quite clear in their own minds that Haqqani poses a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan." Patterson says, "[W]e're working with them on these, and I think they increasingly see these [other] groups as a threat as well" -- but Pakistan is not willing to turn on them yet.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is still conducting airstrikes in North Waziristan, which is still teeming with foreign militants and where it's widely thought that Osama bin Laden has hidden out at one point or another during the last few years. This is definitely a story to watch.

Passport

Liz Cheney: chicken, hawk, or both?

I've been enjoying the public back-and-forth between Rachel Maddow, host of the eponymous MSNBC show, and Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president and founder of Keep America Safe, a hawkish PAC.

In the past weeks and months, Cheney has appeared on television, in print, on the Web -- just about everywhere -- talking up her hard-line foreign-policy PAC and asserting that Obama's "‘radical' policies are placing us all at risk." A rhetorical question she posed, which appeared in the New York Times: "Mr. President, in a ticking time-bomb scenario, with American lives at stake, are you really unwilling to subject a terrorist to enhanced interrogation to get information that would prevent an attack?" (Putative White House answer: Yes.) The former State Department official and lawyer instead vocally advocates for policies more in line with the hard right, interventionist, neo-con fringe in the past administration.

This earned the PAC, well, a bit of flack from the left and center, along with slews of plain-old publicity (during its major fundraising drive, natch). Apparently, the push-back rubbed Cheney the wrong way -- and in response Keep America Safe put an advertisement up on its website, criticizing MSNBC for its negative coverage and asking "Why don't they want to talk substance" and "Why don't they want to debate the issues?"

Enter Maddow. As it turns out, the liberal television host had invited Cheney on her show dozens of times, and Cheney had always declined. So, Maddow called Cheney out, publicly offering to have the neo-con on the popular show to talk shop. Alas, it seems Cheney is more chicken than hawk -- she said she would appear on Hannity instead.

I felt a twinge of disappointment, as I would have loved to have seen the Maddow vs. Cheney debate -- particularly because Maddow is the talking head with the best handle on foreign-policy and security issues. In short: She is a wonk. Before her show hit the big time, she was planning to write a book on the military's effects on Washington politics, a project now shelved. She loves talking about the GI bill. She regularly hosts military and defense policy experts. In a quick scan of her shows and Keith Olbermann's over the past month, she devotes something like twice the time to defense and foreign policy issues. And I'd love to see more figures from across the aisle speak with her.

Getty Images