By Rajeev Sharma
The cause of global peace was never advanced by the duplicitous game that the US and Pakistan have been playing with each other in the name of fighting terror for the past ten years. The US knows but does not acknowledge that it is wary of Pakistan’s suspicious role in the war against terror; Pakistan falsely claims that it will not allow ‘sanctuaries’ for terrorists in its territory nor allow them to carry out attacks in the neighbourhood.
This falsehood must end because it has failed to meet the all-important objective of weakening, if not eliminating altogether, the terror edifice in Pakistan. By now it has become clear that the ‘more carrot and less stick’ policy of the US has not helped. Words and actions by Pakistan suggest that it is not willing to give up the use of terror as an instrument of its state policy. The killing of al- Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2, a few hundred metres away from Pakistan Military Academy, does not lessen the threat from terrorists represented by al- Qaeda or Taliban-type forces. Since Plan A has failed it is time to look for another blueprint.
The operation by a special force of US Navy to kill bin Laden was audacious and well executed. It sent a wave of jubilation across America and many countries in the world. But the joy may be short lived if 9/11 (US) or 26/11 (Mumbai) type of attacks are renewed by terrorists whose ‘safe heavens’ remain intact—in Pakistan. The alternative plan must ensure that there are no ‘safe heavens’ in the land of the pure as Pakistan likes to call itself.
Simply put, the US and its allies in the West must stop mollycoddling with Pakistan. They must get tough, realising that their soft approach has not helped Pakistan give up its love affair with the terrorists. More so now that it was the distrust that prevented the Americans from taking Pakistan into confidence before the US helicopters raided the sprawling compound in the garrison town where bin Laden lived with his wives and children. While in two minds whether or not they should claim a part in the killing of bin Laden, some Pakistanis are saying that the US helicopters could not have operated without the prior permission of their government. Yes, but who says that the Americans sought permission to operate the choppers by disclosing the true nature of the mission?
The important point to note is that bin Laden’s safe nest was in the middle of a military cantonment, less than two hours drive from the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and the national capital in Islamabad. Is it possible to doubt that the safe house for bin Laden was provided by a Pakistani government agency, the ISI?
The ISI keeps a lot of people under 24×7 surveillance. In a garrison town it will be impossible for anyone, especially an ‘outsider’ like bin Laden, to come and live in a big ‘suspicious-looking’ house almost next to a military academy without the knowledge of the ISI or some other Pakistani government agency.
By all accounts it appears that the big, three-storied house with 18-ft high boundary walls amidst acres of land was ideal for hiding someone like bin Laden. It was eight times bigger than other houses in the vicinity; its furtive but few occupants were never seen by the neighbours; big vehicles moved in and out of the compound which otherwise showed little sign of any life. Cameras were fitted at vantage points but there were apparently only a handful of guards at the gates. No telephone; no internet connection since Osama bin Laden never used these gadgets.
Desperate to defend themselves, the Pakistanis say that Abbattobad is a small town and there are a lot of houses with big compound enclosed within high boundary walls. So, ‘nobody’ bothered to find out who lived there or what went on inside. That ‘nobody’ cannot include an agency like the ISI because the house in question was within a few metres of a military academy where one of the periodic guests include the chief of the Pakistani army, the most powerful and important figure in ‘democratic’ Pakistan.
Though there have been reports that bin Laden was “cured” of his kidney ailment, there is no authoritative confirmation of this. It is widely believed that bin Laden required frequent medical attention, especially dialysis. Unless he had a portable hospital moving with him complete with medics and all the equipment needed, he would have required regular care by a visiting medical team. That could have been risky unless the team of medics was provided by an agency like the ISI.
Pakistan lives by a policy of denial and deception even as it defines itself as the anti-thesis of India. Till 9/11 it had refuted allegations that it had any terrorists within its territories. The US paid no attention to the Indian accusations of the involvement of Pakistan in attacks on Parliament and Mumbai.
After the 9/11 attacks, a naked warning by George Bush Jr., the then President of the US to ‘bomb Pakistan to stone-age’ saw Pakistan, then ruled by Gen Pervez Musharraf, immediately doing a U-turn. Musharraf said Pakistan was severing its ties with the terrorists—who, according to him, did not even exist in Pakistan till then.
Of course, the Pakistani Rambo did not exactly mean what he said to the American Rambo. After the Mumbai attacks Pakistan blamed such acts of terror on ‘non-state’ actors. The US seemed inclined to buy that fib. Now even the US has started calling the ISI a ‘terror’ organisation. Yet, the US is the prime benefactor and provider of cash and arms to Pakistan; the life-line for Pakistan. The US certainly is in a position to arm-twist the Pakistanis.
If the US is so chary of its ‘non-NATO ally’ and doubts its will to fight the war on terror sincerely, why does it go on pampering and humouring Pakistan? The fear that the use of ‘stick’ will push Pakistan into the arms of fundamentalists is exaggerated. Successive elections in Pakistan shown that people do not get swayed by religious parties as such and that these parties shine only when pampered by the army-ISI combine, known locally as the establishment.
Anyhow, the US must come to grips with what it has achieved from all these years of mollycoddling of Pakistan? An astonishing level of anti-Americanism (70 per cent of the population) and an even more astounding spread of fundamentalism among the people! Only three per cent of the Pakistanis had poor opinion of bin Laden, according to a recent survey reported in the media.
If the Americans withdraw their munificence, Pakistan might be forced to rethink its policy of supporting acts of terror and terrorist organisations. The fear that if the Americans stop aiding, the country will be taken over completely by fundamentalists and its considerable nuclear arsenal will pose a threat to the world, though not totally unfounded, should not stand in the way of taking steps to chastise Pakistan.
The present set of rulers in Pakistan may pretend not to be pro-fundamentalist but recent events have shown very clearly that the entire establishment, including the government and the powerful army, supports the fundamentalists. The so-called ‘liberal’ section in Pakistan tamely surrendered before the fundamentalists after two successive assassinations of leaders who had dared to oppose changes in the blasphemy law.
The US can be sure that without the stick, Pakistan will become more intransigent and unreasonable in the coming months. It may not be necessary to go the whole hog, but it is time the US got real tough with its ‘non-Nato’ ally to make it see the folly of looking ‘both ways’, as the British Prime Minister had famously said while in India last year. The Pakistanis shouted and screamed at David Cameron but after a while made peace with the Brits, another major benefactor.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])