Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has finally chosen to speak truth to power. His public statement that the Pakistani state had ‘sanctioned’ the killing of Saleem Shahzad, the courageous Pakistani journalist, constitutes an important departure from his characteristically exculpatory statements about the numerous wrongdoings of the Pakistani military establishment.
It remains to be seen whether or not in the days and weeks ahead other key administration officials who routinely deal with Pakistan will find suitable ways to suggest that the killing was sadly the work of some ‘rogue elements’ within the security apparatus.
Such anodyne explanations, unfortunately, have been the stock in trade of both the Bush and the Obama administrations when faced with certain distinctly unpalatable features of the US-Pakistan security nexus forged in the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. These explanations have enabled the bilateral relationship to survive, but at considerable human and material costs. Able, thoughtful and brave journalists, tragically, have routinely paid the ultimate price.
There’s little question that the US-Pakistan relationship is critical for winding up the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. However, simply papering over the egregious behaviour of the Pakistani military in the interests of preserving a working relationship with that entity is entirely beyond the pale. Mullen’s belated but blunt statement is a useful starting point for re-structuring the relationship on a more morally and politically defensible basis.