Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is presently in Afghanistan on his way to Pakistan. His visit to Pakistan has been triggered off by the discovery of Osama bin Laden living for six years in a safehaven at Abbottabad, the cradle of the Pakistan Army, where he was killed by US Naval commandos on May 2,2011. Tensions in the relations between the US and Pakistan, which had already worsened before the clandestine US raid into OBL's hide-out, have been further aggravated by the defiant refusal of the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to agree to any independent enquiry into the circumstances under which OBL managed to live undetected for nearly six years.
2. The US suspects, with valid reasons, that OBL could not have lived that long in a garrison town without local support---- official or unofficial or both. Identifying and neutralising the sources of local support would be an important step forward in the fight against jihadi terrorism. The Pakistan Army and the ISI have dismissed suspicions of local support and are stonewalling demands----made in Pakistan as well as in the US--- for an independent enquiry.
3.Kerry, known in the past as a well-wisher of Pakistan and as a strong advocate of long-term aid commitments to Pakistan, has been showing signs of skepticism after May 2. He has been quoted as saying that it was “extraordinarily hard to believe” Osama could have survived in Pakistan for so long without any knowledge.
4. This skepticism seems even stronger now nearly two weeks after the death of OBL. He has been quoted as saying on May 14 at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, where he had gone on a visit before proceeding to Pakistan : “Washington will consider all its options if it found out that Mullah Omar (Amir of the Afghan Taliban) was living in Pakistan. The United States government will always reserve all of its options to be able to protect our people. Other plots have been conducted and organised and planned out of Pakistan. It is really critical that we talk with the Pakistanis as friends. The United States wanted Pakistan to be a real ally in combating militants inside its borders, but serious questions remain in relations between the countries after Osama’s killing. We obviously want a Pakistan that is prepared to respect the interests of Afghanistan, and to be a real ally in our efforts to combat terrorism. We believe there are things that can be done better. And there are serious questions that need to be answered in that relationship. But we’re not trying to find a way to break the relationship apart, we’re trying to find a way to build it.”
5. Can Pakistan ever be a real ally against terrorism? That is a question that even well-wishers of Pakistan in the US have started posing----not in secret, but in public. Can it be trusted to fight sincerely and genuinely against terrorism? All those, who were talking of a transformational moment in the history of Pakistan in the wake of May2, would have been disappointed by the details of the in camera session of the Pakistan Parliament held on May 13, to discuss the OBL affair. Not the slightest sign of a feeling of shame that Osama was living unmolested in a Pakistani army garrison town for over five years. Not the slightest sign of a determination to find out the truth.
6. The fact that the world’s most dreaded terrorist was found living in an important garrison town did not seem to embarrass the Pakistani leaders and their Army and the ISI. What has embarrassed them is the fact that the US managed to find that out and carry out a clandestine raid to kill him. They have decided to hold a commission of enquiry only into the security failure and not into the intelligence failure. That is, they want to find out how the US carried out the raid. Nothing more.
7. Kerry has referred to other plots conducted, organized and planned out of Pakistan. Many of those plots targeted India and Indian nationals in different cities of India and in Kabul working in the Indian Embassy there. Three of those plots---all in Mumbai—involved mass fatalities---in March 1993, July 2006 and November 2008. No other city in the world has suffered so many acts of mass fatality terrorism. Pakistan has been able to carry on this policy of using terrorism as a strategic weapon because of the reluctance of the US and other members of the international community to act against it.
8. The time has come for sustained action against terrorists and their hide-outs in Pakistan. If Pakistan will not act, the international community has to. Pakistanis talk of a violation of their national sovereignty----whether at Abbottabad or in respect of the Drone strikes in the two Waziristans. Of course, they constitute violations of national sovereignty---- but they are justified violations in exercise of one’s right of self-defence.
9. There are UN resolutions that describe the state-sponsorhip of terrorism as amounting to indirect aggression against the targeted country. This indirect aggression gives one the right to exercise one’s self-defence in the territory of that country if left with no other option. Till now, Pakistan managed to get away without any negative consequences because no country was prepared to take the right of self-defence into its territory.
10. Now that the US has shown the way and taken the lead, it is important for India to follow its lead----not by doing a copy cat of Abbottabad, which would be messy between two neighbours--- but through other means, which would not be spectacular, but effective without involving any civilian casualties in Pakistan and without the use of Indian security or para-military forces or commandos for that purpose.
11. Options, suited to our needs, are available. We have to identify them, acquire the capability to use them and use them. As we acquire the capability, we have to educate the international community, particularly the US, on the serious dimensions of the problems faced by us, on our right of self-defence and on our determination to exercise that right even outside our territory if left with no other option.
12. I have endorsed strongly our Prime Minister’s initiatives for talks with Pakistan. Talks do not mean we renounce our right of self-defence. The two have to go together. I have always advocated a policy of “Talk, Talk, Hit, Hit”----keep talking so long as the talks promise results, but be prepared to hit if the talks prove counter-productive. ( 15-5-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )