Time to Act Tough With Islamabad

Ever since terror kingpin Osama bin Laden was unearthed and gunned down in close proximity of the premier training institute of the Pakistan army, Islamabad has had to deal with several troubling questions. As it seems, Laden had been residing at Abbottabad in plain sight for over six years. Even after nearly three months of the incident it remains unclear whether Pak military had colluded with the Al Qaeda or had really overlooked his compound. Had the military knew its whereabouts, it must have kept Islamabad in the dark. Had it no clue, it meant that hunting down the Al Qaeda chief wasn’t its top priority.

In either way, the incident has put into stark perspective the pertinent need for addressing the gross imbalance of power between Pakistan’s politicians and generals, whose respective opinions on the terrorism diverge. Whereas the civilian government led by Pakistan People’s Party, condemns violent extremism unequivocally, the military still continues to view several outfits viz the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network as strategic tools.

Suspecting Islamabad’s collusion in hiding Laden, many US lawmakers, including Susan Collins (R-Me.) and senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have questioned the utility behind extending additional aid to Pakistan. Others like representatives Allen West (R-Fla.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) have even authored a legislation to stop US assistance to Pakistan, should the latter’s deceit in hiding Laden be proved. Islamabad, however, needs international assistance for keeping its economy afloat and caters to the long-term developmental needs. Besides, at a US Senate Committee hearing on foreign relations recently, senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged caution when he said, “A legitimate analysis concludes that it is undeniable that our relationship with Pakistan has helped us pursue our security goals.”

Washington has to take this opportunity for resetting its ties with Islamabad. First, with the Pak military under increased global and domestic scrutiny, the administration must demand it severs links with militant outfits or risk losing the security assistance. Meanwhile, Congress must unapologetically enforce the condition clauses contained in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, 2009, which links military aid to a certification by the US secretary of state that that Islamabad isn’t allowing its territories to be used by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or their affiliates and that the Pak military is under civilian control.

Second, the US must also start cooperating earnestly with and supporting Pak’s civilian institutes, including the law enforcement agencies. Most of the country’s major political parties, Parliament and the civil society share the US interest in uprooting militancy and extremism from Pak soil and prefer peace with India than hostility. But since Laden’s annihilation, the Pak military has been publicly defiant and combative, whereas the government has expressed its intention to work with the US, assuring to investigate how Laden had set camp in the country’s heartland.

Regardless of the shortcomings, Pak’s civilian and democratic institutions require US backing. After all, in the long run, only an economically run Pakistan would be able to avert militants and terrorists finding safe refuge on its land.

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