Following the death of Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan has become something of a whipping boy for the international community. As a result, rather than debating the pros and cons of the demise of the al-Qaeda chief, many Pakistanis are instead focusing on the repercussions of foreign forces violating their country’s sovereignty.
India certainly isn’t missing any opportunities to bash Pakistan over its track record in dealing with terrorists. Home Minister P Chidambaram, for example, has reiterated his earlier position that Pakistan has become a sanctuary for radical groups. He has also renewed New Delhi’s demands for the handing over those believed responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The numerous Indian commentators who have in the past claimed that Pakistan is a hotbed of terrorist activity must feel vindicated by these latest developments.
Western commentators and politicians have also largely been united in their condemnation of Pakistan. A number of US lawmakers, for example, have raised doubts about the country’s sincerity in its fight against terrorism, underscoring a general international scepticism about the calculations of the Pakistani establishment.
But just how far should we go in isolating Pakistan? By humiliating a sovereign nation and its people, are we really going to achieve the goal of eliminating terrorist networks? And why aren’t we willing to look at why Pakistan might see some so-called terror groups as a geo-political asset that can help extend the country’s leverage in Afghanistan?
The fact is that the Taliban likely offers the Pakistani establishment its best bargaining chip for lasting influence in Afghanistan, where a pliable government is obviously in its larger interests. By continuing to attack Pakistan, we’re also running the risk of pushing the nation to the psychological edge, and alienating its liberal voices in the process.
Popular Pakistani politician Imran Khan has said following the death of bin Laden that ‘there is not just confusion in Pakistan, but also national depression at the loss of dignity, self esteem and sovereignty.’ If Khan, one of the best-known liberal and modern political faces of Pakistan, can think out loud in this way, what must many others be thinking?
The constant haranguing of Islamabad could marginalize the elected government, embolden radical Islamic groups, and lead lawmakers in Pakistan to question whether they should reduce co-operation with the West in the war on terrorism.
Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, recently wrote in an opinion piece in the Independent: ‘Pakistan can no longer afford the human and financial costs and must along with the rest of the world, realize that ultimately the solutions to these problems are political—and the weaker the state becomes, the less likely it will be to tackle the menace of extremism.’
It’s clear that a victory over al-Qaeda and the Taliban can’t come at the cost of humiliating Pakistan and undermining its independence. But as the debate rages over whether some Pakistani officials assisted in concealing bin Laden’s whereabouts, it’s also important to consider that Pakistan may well have played a supporting role in the killing of the al-Qaeda leader.
Although the possibility that Pakistan was involved in any way in the operation in Abbottabad has been widely dismissed on the US side, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, has reported that electricity was cut off to the area as the operation to kill Osama began. This could suggest that there was some kind of implicit understanding between the United States and Pakistani forces. In addition, according to Xinhua, the area was cordoned off by Pakistani security forces before the Americans attacked it, with some local residents apparently saying they were unable to enter or leave during the siege. If confirmed to be true, this suggests that Pakistan was aware that an operation of some sort was being conducted.
Yet regardless of what Pakistan did or didn’t know about this operation, India should still be careful not to overdo the rhetorical attacks on its neighbour. A disturbed and unstable Pakistan is far from in the best interests of regional peace and economic prosperity—or the war on terror.