Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, needs to be complimented for her plain-speaking on Pakistani inaction againat Al Qaeda during the course of a public interaction in Lahore during her visit to Pakistan from October 28 to 30,2009.
2. She expressed in an unmistakable manner US skepticism over the Pakistani sincerity in hunting for the remnants of Al Qaeda which have taken shelter in Pakistani territory. In the past, US officials refrained from giving public expression to this skepticism lest it affect whatever co-operation Pakistan was extending to the US in the search for Al Qaeda remnants.
3.The publicly-expressed US exasperation with Pakistan has to be seen in the light of the fact that after the exit of Pervez Musharraf from office as the President last year, even the co-operation which Pakistan was extending to the US in its search for Al Qaeda leaders seems to have stopped. The Musharraf Government did help the US in the arrest of some important members of Al Qaeda such as Abu Zubaidah, Ramzi Binalshibh,Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu-Faraj al-Libi and others. Compared to that, since the present elected Government came to office last year, there has been hardly any capture of any notable remnant of Al Qaeda by the Pakistani Security Forces.
4.Of course, the Government of President Asif Ali Zardari has closed its eyes to the increasing strikes by US drones against terrorist hide-outs in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) while making pro forma protests over them in public, but these strikes are increasingly targeted against elements of the Pakistani Taliban, which pose a threat to the Pakistani Army. The Pakistani Army has reasons to be grateful to the US for these strikes which help it in its operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
5. While benefiting from the US action, the present Pakistani Government has failed to reciprocate by extending to the US even the limited co-operation against Al Qaeda that it was getting from the Musharraf Government. Expectations that the coming into office of an elected civilian Government would improve the co-operation against Al Qaeda have been belied so far.
6. The Government of President Barack Obama has been even more generous to the Islamabad Government than the previous Bush Administration in respect of civilian and military assistance, but such assistance has not motivated the Pakistani authorities to change their policy of inaction against Al Qaeda and collusion with the Afghan Taliban and the anti-India jihadi terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET).
7. The Pakistani leaders-----political and military---- and large sections of its civil society think that by virtue of its strategic location Pakistan has a moral right to expect and receive such assistance from the US without any quid pro quo from its side. Unless this Pakistani impression that its strategic location and nuclear capability give it a hold over US policy-making is removed from their mind, the US is unlikely to make any progress against the Afghan Taliban and against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.The bloated impression in the minds of Pakistani leaders that Pakistan is indispensable to US interests in the region has to be removed.
8.Even if one understands the US reluctance under the previous Bush Administration as well as under the Obama Administration to take punitive action against Pakistan, one fails to understand the continuing US propensity to pamper Pakistan with more and more assistance in the fond hope that such pampering could finally make Pakistan act sincerely against Al Qaeda and other terrorists. Hillary Clinton's public expression of the US exasperation has not created any concerns in Pakistani policy-making circles because they are confident that the US will not ultimately act against Pakistan.
9.Plain-speaking alone will not do.The time has come for plain action which will carry the unmistakable message to the Pakistani leaders that it is not as indispensable as they seem to think it is. ( 1-11-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )