American special forces’ successful mission to take out Osama bin Laden has debunked one of the most profane myths in the war inaugurated by al Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001: that Pakistan is a reliable ally in the war against terrorism. The discovery of bin Laden in Abottabad, 75 miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and less than half a kilometer from the elite Pakistan Military Academy, proves that US aid and international impunity, far from buying Pakistan's loyal cooperation, only bolstered its brazenness: surviving on American money, Pakistan's security establishment sheltered America’s most wanted enemy for six years. Billions of dollars of aid later, what leverage does America have over Pakistan?
The era of bottomless bribes must come to an end.The United States should now impose accountability on Pakistan. First, Washington must identify and pursue Pakistan’s military and intelligence leaders who collude with extremists of any stripe. Second, it must impose severe travel restrictions on senior officers of the Pakistan army, and their personal assets in the west must be identified and frozen. Third, Washington should make it clear to Islamabad that the US will no longer play the role of Pakistan’s pleader with India. Finally, Pakistan must be told in no uncertain terms that if it does not act against the terrorists in its midst, then those likely to be affected by their actions have the right to intervene in self-defense.
By enlisting Pakistan as an ally, Washington for almost a decade pursued its war on terror in Afghanistan with a partner that, since 1989, has been the Taliban’s principal patron and guardian. Contrary to what is now received wisdom in some circles in the West, the Taliban, in its current incarnation, is not a creation of America: it is a creature of Pakistan, nurtured by the ISI and foisted upon the people of Afghanistan by the late Benazir Bhutto in order to gain “strategic depth” against India. Washington’s subsidies to Pakistan were, in effect, being channeled to sponsor the slaughter of American soldiers and threaten Indian interests.
For all its momentousness, the death of bin Laden serves a largely symbolic purpose. But the threat posed by his ideological cohorts — fragmented but determined — remains undiminished. Those who doubt the destructive potential of bin Laden’s legacy by citing the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East for secular democracy ignore the fact that Pakistan has now displaced the Middle East as the world’s capital of religious radicalism. According to a 2010 Pew global attitudes survey, a staggering 82 percent of all Pakistanis favor stoning adulterers, and the same number would like to see whipping and cutting off of hands introduced as punishments for theft and robbery.
The chilling possibilities implied by these numbers assumed life earlier this year when Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most powerful province, Punjab, was murdered by his own security guard for campaigning against the country’s anti-blasphemy laws. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was instantly deified as a hero: lawyers scrambled to defend him, enthusiastic crowds garlanded him, and a major film producer consecrated Qadri’s jihad to celluloid. Liberal politicians went into hiding. Two months later Shahbaz Bhatti, another prominent proponent of minority rights and Pakistan’s only non-Muslim lawmaker, was shot dead.
The threat of imminent collapse has not deterred Pakistan’s tiny ruling elite from continuing with its policy of nurturing and offering sanctuary to terrorists. Sirajuddin Haqqani, a bin Laden disciple who is considered the single biggest threat to American troops in Afghanistan, operates out of North Waziristan in Pakistan’s mountainous north. Groups devoted to the destruction of India are permitted to function even more freely. Lashkar-e-Toiba, responsible for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, has offices in and around Lahore; its leader, Hafeez Saeed, moves about in chauffeured cars. Dawood Ibrahim, a gangster-turned-terrorist wanted by New Delhi for the 1993 Mumbai bombings which killed over 250 people in the worst terrorist atrocity in India’s history, lives in a palatial mansion in Karachi’s exclusive Clifton neighborhood.
Far from being an obstacle to terrorism, Pakistan — fractured between the competing interests of its military, intelligence and political outfits — is one of its chief global facilitators. Perversely, the best guarantor of the Pakistani ruling elite’s hold on power are the extremists they patronize: so long as they exist, Washington, fearful of the alternative in the world’s sole Islamic nuclear state, will continue to back the status quo in Pakistan. President Obama’s decision to send ground troops into Pakistan to capture bin Laden is a refreshingly bold reaffirmation of the central premise of the war on terrorism: states that offer territory to international terrorists forfeit their sovereignty over that land. If Pakistan does not act against the terrorists in its midst, then those likely to be affected by their actions have the right to intervene in self-defense.
Kapil Komireddi is an Indian journalist.
AFP/Getty photo: Pro-Taliban protesters shout anti-US slogans in Quetta, Pakistan, after the death of Osama Bin Laden.