The good news for Pakistan which is fighting a total war against terrorists of all “hue and colour” is that Taliban chief Mullaha Akhtar Mansoor has been ‘droned’ by the US; the bad news for it is that this happened on Pakistani soil. Rather than be glad that one of the world’s most wanted militant has been removed from the scene, Islamabad is outraged by the fact that this killing has violated its sovereignty and there is nothing wrong with this. The army is particularly upset with its Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) stating that this incident “had impacted the mutual (US – Pak) trust and respect.” For once the ISPR has got it right: while this incident would most certainly further diminish whatever little trust and respect that Islamabad has for Uncle Sam, it also reflects that Washington’s patience with Pakistan army’s partisanship in its ‘war on terror’ finally seems to be running out!
Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif has good reasons to feel annoyed about the shabby way in which Washington has been treating Islamabad lately. By calling-off the F 16 deal Washington has finally proved that the days when a Pakistani dictator could mock an extremely generous US financial aid package as “peanuts” and still get away, are over. But what is more embarrassing for Islamabad in general and the Pakistan army in particular is that despite singing paeans in praise of his army’s total against militants without any distinction, Washington still doesn’t trust Gen Sharif. The killing of Mullaha Mansoor and subsequent revelations of him having been provided with fake identity documents in order to facilitate visits to neighboring Iran proves that the US suspicions of Pakistan army’s doublespeak weren’t misplaced afterall.
Pakistan should not feel so offended because no one is challenging the Pakistan army’s claim of having undertaken the world’s biggest ever operation against militants. But, when the world’s most wanted militants like the Al Qiada founder Osama bin Laden and now Mullaha Mansoor are hunted down on Pakistani soil, how can one expect unconditional appreciation for Pakistan army’s war on terror? In the art of warfare it is necessary to keep changing tactics as continued reliance on any single asset, no matter how powerful or unassailable, is suicidal. Just like the French who became complacent just before the second world war as they thought that the impregnable ‘Maginot Line’ ruled out any German invasion, Pakistan army’s proximity to the Taliban gave its Generals a false impression that as they held the game-winning the ‘Taliban card’, there was no reason to be scared of Washington!
The way Islamabad has been flaunting its Taliban connection is shameful. Last year while speaking at Washington’s Council on Foreign Affairs, Pakistani Prime Minister’s special adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz made public what was hitherto-fore Islamabad’s worst kept secret. He told the audience that Pakistan has “some influence on them (Afghan Taliban) because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.” This belated admission is not blooper or an attempt by Islamabad to confess to atone harbouring the Taliban for all these years. By going on to say “So we can use those levers to pressurise them (Taliban) to say, ‘come to the table’,” it is clear that this was a discreet message meant for Washington.
What Aziz actually did was to remind Washington that any attempt to get the Taliban on the negotiating table was solely contingent on Islamabad’s ‘facilitation’ and he was not talking through his hat. Pakistan has been a safe haven for the Taliban ever since Islamabad launched a massive covert operation to evacuate most of the senior Taliban leaders when the US backed Northern Alliance overran Afghanistan. Remember reports filed by many including the famous and respected investigative news reporter Seymour Hersh of how the US allowed Islamabad to fly out senior Taliban leaders alongwith its own military and intelligence personnel when Kunduz was surrounded by the Northern Alliance in 2001?
Pakistan is today entangled in a web of its own making. It doesn’t understand that playing the terror ‘victim card’ will not compensate its dual-policy when it comes to dealing with terrorism. In principle, any drone attack by any power on another country’s soil without seeking prior approval is wrong. But when the concerned country fails to take action against proclaimed terrorists involved in mass killings, such interventions de facto become something that is acceptable and justified. This is the case with Pakistan. Gen Sharif should not forget that the strength of a chain lies in its weakest link and in Pakistan’s case its weakest link remains what it considers to be the ‘good ‘ Taliban!
The Balochistan drone attack that killed Taliban chief Mullaha Mansoor may have upset Gen Sharif prompting him to demand that the US should now target the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and its chief Mullah Fazlullah, who as per him are allegedly hiding in Afghanistan. But when he himself did nothing against the Afghan Taliban chief Mullaha Mansoor who was safely tucked away by him in Pakistan, how can he now demand that the US must now take similar action against the TTP? The Pakistan army chief should see the signs of time and having experienced how badly it hurts when being paid in the same coin and how quickly the cookie crumbles!
It is a desperate situation for Gen Sharif and he is plainly trying to retrieve the situation by accusing Indian and Afghan spy agencies RAW and NDS of “fomenting terrorism” within Pakistan. But how can Washington oblige if Gen Sharif is unable to substantiate his allegations? Ofcourse, Pakistan has claimed arresting a senior naval officer on charges of fomenting terror in Balochistan and even released a video showing him “voluntarily” admitting being a RAW operative involved in every conceivable act of subterfuge under the sun. Surprisingly, even after its media blitz and a detailed presentation to diplomats, neither the US nor any other country seems to have taken Islamabad’s allegations seriously. Same is the case regarding Islamabad’s claim of also having arrested an intelligence officer of the Afghanistan army just days after the alleged RAW agent’s arrest from the same place!
Gen Sharif has to come to terms with the fact that as far as terrorism is concerned, it was the Pakistan army that enthusiastically wrote and played out the script for waging proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviets on Uncle Sam’s directions. So, it is only the Pakistan army that can ensure its closure. Blaming the RAW and NDS for the nation’s woes may provide temporary relief by diverting public attention from the reality. However the people will come to realise sooner or later that if things are bad in Pakistan, then it is only due to the ‘good’ terrorists which the army is protecting! Perhaps Gen Sharif needs to introspect more seriously on ex US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comment about keeping snakes in the backyard in the hope that they would only bite the neighbours!