Noncommital? Pakistan’s War on Terror
When American Navy Seals secretly flew 192km into Pakistani territory on 2 May last year in order to eliminate the man long considered the kernel of worldwide evil, Osama bin Laden, they managed to accomplish perhaps the most audacious raid in the history of Special Forces.
The culmination of their endeavor was not only by far the most significant blow against al-Qa’ida over the last 10 years, but it also contributed heavily to the demystification of the Bin Laden and henchman that the world had long been accustomed to seeing.
But for all its daring and precision in execution, the raid also exposed a sad truth to the so-called War on Terror; the cataclysmic failure of Pakistan to play the part of a frontline state.
Despite becoming recipients of billions of dollars in military and financial aid since 9/11, Pakistan failed miserably in even coming to acknowledge, at least on face value, that the world’s most wanted man and his family had for years been living in a well-guarded compound right under their noses.
For all the years of pointing a bony finger of blame at neighboring Afghanistan, and for all the efforts exerted by the international community to thicken the sinews of power in the country’s intelligence agencies, Pakistan’s credibility in the backdrop of the Bin Laden raid showed that it was not an equal partner in the War on Terror — but a blemish on it.
None of this is surprising. It mustn’t be forgotten that this was the very state that both nurtured and bankrolled the Taliban — the welcoming hosts that eventually gave refuge to Bin Laden and his evil breed of sycophants.
But if ever there was a lesson to be learnt from history about questioning Pakistan’s ability to become an indispensable ally in the fight against international terrorism, the US missile strikes on al-Qa’ida training camps in eastern Afghanistan in 1998 following suicide bombings against their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, should have said it all.
It’s widely believed that elements within Pakistan’s military apparatus tipped off Bin Laden’s people about the impending strikes — allowing the top brass to escape death.
Even as the War on Terror entered the phase where the Pakistanis were rendered to routing out al-Qa’ida on their own soil, it was all too common to see its leaders celebrating the nabbing of second-tier and low ranked al-Qa’ida and Taliban leaders in their midst — with considerable éclat.
But this was a little disingenuous, and not only because the topmost leaders like Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, remained elusive.
In an apparent fog of forgetfulness they seemed to habitually evade the fact that it was American assistance, mainly in the form of monetary bounties, which led the Pakistanis to these captures in the first place.
It’s as if the Pakistanis apprehended the terror fugitives not because they felt impelled with solicitude for humanity and its fate, but because they became salivated in the face of dollar signs.
Then there was dismay with Pakistani refusals to go into its own sovereign territory in the tribal heartlands of Waziristan to round up terrorist groups that had menacingly made their sanctuary there.
When it finally did invade South Waziristan, and although credit must be given to them, it soon became apparent that they did so in tacit agreement with the most dangerous of outfits that simply relocated to the north of this lawless tribal belt.
Perhaps there’s a truth to the accusation that they’ve always retained a delicate balancing act of differentiating between pro and anti-Pakistani terrorists — even when they are inextricably linked to al-Qa’ida.
Nothing has changed.
Even before Bin Laden’s death, the steady stream of accusations about Pakistan’s selective assistance to Taliban and other Jihadi groups fighting Nato troops in Afghanistan was proceeding apace.
It beggars belief as to why the Pakistani authorities, whose innocent people have for years become ugly illustrations of combined al-Qa’ida/Taliban carnage, could so readily erase the memory of how years of support to their former protégés, rebounded so mercilessly on the streets of their country.
But Pakistan’s indignation after the Bin Laden raid has become a national disgrace.
Despite responding with cunningly wrought words about their sovereignty being violated, the truth is that the successful raid has rendered the once radiant Pak-US relationship to become besmirched by a hideous black mark that’s unlikely to be erased anytime soon.
If they really want to earn their place as equal partners in the international coalition against terror and salvage what remains of a badly bruised relationship with the US, a lot of work and convincing needs to be done.
Before anything, they need to disengage from the habituated tendency to indulge in taking cheap shots at others as a deflection from their own colossal failures and intelligence lapses.
A major reorganization of their military and security establishments, whose history of excrescence on the country’s democratic process has allowed them to become bywords for the near failure of the state, would be another step in the right direction.
Even a year after the attack, efforts to crush the remnants of al-Qa’ida led by Bin Laden’s anointed successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, are at a pivotal stage.
It’s unlikely that any serious person would assume that he was anywhere but hiding in Pakistan, much like his predecessor.
A direct Pakistani hand in his capture or elimination would not only show a deeply suspicious world that they remain a committed front in the global War on Terror, but it would also set a deadly precedent for those vying to take over terrorism’s top job.
Yet it’s difficult to discern the political and military mindset of the Pakistani establishment.
The fact that successful drone strikes against terrorists targets in the tribal area continue, at times almost incessantly, indicates Pakistan’s obliviousness to ground realities.
It’s all too clear that terrorist leaders and their allies are holed up in this mountainous terrain.
A stubborn refusal to take over the remaining patches of the virulent tribal areas and rout out their formidable phalanx of enemies, on the pretext that the political and economic fallout would be too vast; does nothing to sooth the apprehensions of its already weary international allies across the border in Afghanistan.
They cannot be expected to foot the bill for any invasion, especially considering the dubious nature of half-hearted attacks and limited strikes the Pakistani’s have carried out over the last few years.
Another recent addition to the repertoire of the War on Terror’s quagmire has been the refusal by the Pakistani authorities to allow NATO tankers to transport equipment and fuel through their territory on the way to Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis, aware that their relationship with the international coalition in Afghanistan is a critical one — not only due to their vitality as a supply line for NATO troops, have been firm in demanding an apology as a prerequisite for these supplies to continue.
It would certainly be in the interest of the US to show a more heartfelt commitment to loss of those valiant soldiers by indeed recognizing the mistake and apologizing.
The complicated relationship between the two nations could do with such a gesture if it’s to have any glimmer of hope for the foreseeable future.
In the end, and with the US poised to pull out from the Afghan mission in the not too distant future, half-hearted commitments by the Pakistani’s will do them no favors in an environment where thousands of die-hard terrorists are vying to overturn the very foundations of their nation.
Despite a questionable alliance full of suspicion, trickery and betrayal, the Pakistani nation has no doubt rendered some great sacrifices in the war on terror and paid a heavy price in making the decision to directly assist the international community.
These sacrifices should never be seen to be withering on the vine.
But time is of the essence. For all the politics surrounding the surreptitious nature of some of their top-level decision making, Pakistan needs to take decisive and all-out action against the terrorist infrastructure the cancerously mutates in their towns and valleys.
Only when such a firm decision is taken are we likely to see the era of the world’s most dangerous Jihadists outfits referring to Pakistan as their home — finally come to an end.Tagged in: Afghanistan, Al-Qaida, Drones, osama bin laden, Pakistan, taliban, terrorism, us, war on terror
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