Pakistan & Plausible Deniability

For too long, the Pakistani establishment has relied on ‘plausible deniability’ with terrorism. It’s wearing thin.

Back in May 1999, enlisted soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry of Pakistan Army reportedly sneaked into India dressed as mujahideen and occupied the heights of Kargil. Yet when confronted with the evidence, Pakistan played the ‘plausible deniability’ card.

In 2003, after the revelations over the AQ Khan network, it was clear that Khan’s proliferation operation had been run with the knowledge and support of the Pakistani establishment, yet the government again denied any role, instead blaming it on rogue behaviour by Khan.

On November 26, 2008, a group of armed young men carried out an outrageous terrorist strike in Mumbai. The sole terrorist caught alive was from Pakistan, and reams of evidence provided by India since have suggested a link between the attackers and ‘handlers’ in Pakistan, possibly the ISI.

In the past week, the United States found Osama bin Laden holed up right next to the Pakistan Army’s training school in the garrison town of Abbottabad. Perhaps unsurprisingly, officials in Pakistanhave denied they knew he was there. The denials have little credibility these days, meaning the real question is how long Pakistan will continue this ostrich policy when dealing with the international community.

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The problem is that it’s unclear whether we can ever expect the Pakistan Army and the ISI, which have long shown signs of using terrorism as a foreign policy and even military tool, to accept that such an approach has been dangerous not just for the international community, but for themselves as well. Can sane voices in Pakistan force a change in direction?

Over the past few days, media and analysts the world over have been contemplating the future of US-Pakistan relations in the wake of the Osama operation. Islamabad and Rawalpindi must surely see the gravity of the situation that their nation faces. If they cannot—or refuse to—then Pakistani society and the country’s intelligentsia must ensure that it is they who will decide the future of not just the country’s relationship with the United States, but with the rest of the world as well.

The time for a course correction is now. Pakistan can’t afford to keep repeating its mistakes.