Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Daily Times Editorial May 9, 2012
Disingenuous response US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has used her visit to India to accuse Pakistan of failing to take sufficient action against Lashkar-e-Tayyaba chief Hafiz Saeed, accused of responsibility for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and speculating that al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is probably somewhere in Pakistan. In their usual knee-jerk and disingenuous responses, both the Pakistan foreign ministry and its boss, Hina Rabbani Khar, have dismissed the allegation about al-Zawahiri as “conjecture” (the ministry) or strongly denied it (Khar), while the usual mantra has been trotted out to provide justiciable proof against Hafiz Saeed. Ms Khar went on to assert that Pakistan had no information about the whereabouts of al-Zawahiri, and if the US had any information or actionable intelligence, it should share it with us. It may be educative to recall that Ms Clinton had made a similar claim in 2010 regarding the presence of bin Laden in Pakistan, almost a year before he was killed by a US raid in Abbottabad. At that time too, the tone and wording of the response was the same. Given this track record, does the honourable foreign minister really expect the US to share ‘actionable intelligence’ on al-Zawahiri with Pakistan when the doubts and suspicions about who in Pakistan may have had knowledge of bin Laden’s presence have scarcely subsided? If Ms Khar means what she says when she declares al Qaeda the common enemy of the US and Pakistan, why the belligerence? Is it not logical that just like bin Laden, al-Zawahiri too may have lain low somewhere inside Pakistan since having to flee Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 and the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan? Why not an attitude instead of cooperation against a ‘common’ enemy? Or is it simply a knee-jerk response to the fact that Ms Clinton made her damaging accusations in Kolkata? This is no way to run foreign policy. Pakistan cannot deny forever that it has a lot to answer for without risking ridicule and isolation in the world community. Despite the time-honoured ploy of resorting to deception, subterfuge and even being economical with the truth that characterises diplomacy, when caught with one’s pants down, it is usually best to make a clean breast of things. Questions about bin Laden’s living in Pakistan for many years, and for the last five years of his life under the nose of Pakistan’s premier military academy, despite the Obama administration’s taking a soft line and letting the Pakistani military and intelligence services off the hook, refuse to go away. So if Ms Clinton, whether on the basis of ‘actionable intelligence’ or ‘conjecture’ raises the possibility of al-Zawahiri being also holed up in Pakistan, why should we start frothing at the mouth? Since we claim we had nothing to hide in the case of bin Laden, and have nothing to hide in the case of al-Zawahiri, why must we behave as though we are ‘guilty’? As far as Hafiz Saeed is concerned, not only does the Mumbai massacre case beg for closure, Hafiz Saeed’s running around the country lately marshalling the ‘troops’ of the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council has raised hackles within and outside the country. If the Pakistan foreign ministry has been reduced to a mere mouthpiece of the military establishment and its policies, as many critics allege was the rationale for appointing a relatively inexperienced Ms Khar to the foreign minister’s post, then the present response to Ms Clinton’s remarks will deepen these suspicions. How this will help overcome the present impasse in Pakistan-US relations escapes one. As it is, both sides are talking ‘at’ not ‘to’ each other, if their public statements are anything to go by. The much-touted Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in FATA, meant to provide economic opportunities to locals and access to the US market, appear dead in the water by now. US aid is shrivelling under the guise of ‘rationalisation’ and being made more effective. The US State Department spokesman can go blue in the face explaining that not everything with Pakistan is “at a standstill”, but the sceptics on this far outweigh those abiding by the faith. This is a dangerous conjuncture for Pakistan, one that best resembles a crossroads, one path leading to going with the flow of history and the world today, the other leading inexorably to isolation, internal and regional chaos, and perhaps much worse. The need of the hour is statesman to rise above narrow blinkered vision and see the wood, not just the trees. Any takers?