While the US is asking tough questions about how Osama bin Laden was able to live undetected just outside a major military base, it is important to move forward with an eye not only on the past, but the future as well. Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari recently wrote that he is “fighting terrorists for the soul of Pakistan.” Following the US military operation that killed Osama bin Laden, that fight has intensified, and pro-democracy forces in Pakistan are under assault from all sides.
In Sunday’s Washington Post, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Bruce Riedel, wrote that the greatest threat to the fight against global terrorism is Pakistan falling into the hands of extremists.
Bin laden and his likely successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, increasingly believed that Pakistan is their best chance at a global game-changer: a coup that delivers to the global jihad the world’s sixth-most-populous country with the bomb.
And judging by recent events in Pakistan, that may be exactly what the militant groups are attempting to do. Using a strategy honed in Iraq, extremist militant groups in Pakistan are launching sectarian attacks that divide the people while fan the flames of violence and extremism.
A deadly pattern is emerging: the terrorists are going ahead full-throttle in a murderous rampage against Pakistan’s minority sects and demonstrating their disturbing willingness to make the daily lives of the people of Quetta, and beyond, a pawn in their armed agenda.
Unfortunately, it’s not only extremist militants who are jumping on the opportunity to divide and conquer a confused and frustrated public. Some opposition politicians have launched attacks on the civilian government for allegedly failing to secure Pakistan’s sovereignty. The News, an English-language daily owned by the same company that the Washington Post compared to “a political opposition group”, has published a series of articles and cartoons criticizing the civilian government, despite the fact that Osama bin Laden was found living next door to the nation’s largest military academy.
In addition to Pakistan’s activist media, some opposition leaders are also using the situation to advance their own ambitions. Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, whose Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz faction) has been accused of funding the very militant groups the government is trying to crack down on, has called on President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to resign. This call for civilian resignations has also been picked up by former government minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who said the government should have a “no foreign boots on our land” policy, despite the fact that as Foreign Minister until earlier this year, Qureshi would have overseen the increased cooperation between US and Pakistani military and intelligence that led to last week’s raid.
Karin Brulliard, writing in The Washington Post, says these calls for civilian resignations likely reflect an attempt to divert attention from the nation’s powerful military and intelligence agencies noting that Shah Mehmood Qureshi in particular “is viewed as close to the Pakistani military, and his demand was widely though to reflect that institution’s thinking.”
While this might be the thinking of the military establishment, pro-democracy forces within the civilian government are
Appearing on This Week, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, told Christiane Amanpour that Pakistan’s government will conduct a full investigation into how Osama bin Laden was able to enter and stay in Pakistan undetected.
“Heads will roll once the investigation has been completed,” Haqqani said. “Now if those heads are rolled on account of incompetence, we will share that information with you, and if, God forbid, somebody’s complicity is discovered, there will be zero tolerance for that as well.”
Later on the same show, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Liz Cheney said that “we cannot afford to walk away. We walked away once at the end of the 1980s and we saw what happened…It’s very important that we deal with this relationship in a very well advised way going forward and we not jump to the conclusion that we’ve got to walk away.”
Past strategies of attempting to isolate Pakistan have weakened the civilian government and pro-democracy forces in the country, allowing extremist groups to move in and gain influence. It is no coincidence that these militant groups turned their sites on the Pakistani state following the election of the present pro-democracy government in 2008. This same government The US should not repeat past mistakes of walking away from Pakistan in a time of crisis, but should
Bruce Riedel identifies the way to prevent Pakistan from falling into the hands of al Qaeda and its affiliates: Supporting the pro-democracy forces in Pakistan’s civilian government.
It is easy to get angry with Pakistan, but that’s not a strategy. We need a healthy Pakistan that fights terrorism. That means helping democratic forces, such as President Asif Ali Zardari, despite their shortcomings.
Advice decision makers in Washington would do well to heed.