Pakistan's miserable month of May

If Pakistan was granted one wish it would probably seek to undo everything that’s happened this month. May, 2011, has been particularly cruel, marked by series of cataclysmic events in one long, recurring nightmare. Events that threaten to unravel a carefully planned, cunningly executed and craftily marketed  strategy that underpins Islamabad’s foreign policy.

Until now Pakistan’s powerful elite— a lethal mix of radicalized army, ISI and civilian leadership— had a convenient scapegoat in the form of either India or “non-state-actors” whenever they wanted to explain any telltale signs of terrorism originating from their country.

They had also mastered the art of deception and using everyone as a tool to fit in their single point agenda of inflicting a thousand cuts on India. So they did not hesitate to play some Jehadi groups against each other, the USA against China, Beijing against Delhi, Kabul against Tehran and so on and so forth!
Islamabad’s strategy— and also its resounding success—was summed up aptly by a senior American senator last week when he said that Pakistan is America’s most important ally in the global war against terror. But he added Islamabad was also the most important ally of terror groups in their war against the USA.

Pakistan’s cover has been finally blown this month. And how!

The tracing down and subsequent killing of the world’s most wanted man— Osama Bin Laden— in a garrison city barely a few hundreds yards away from a military academy and just a few hours drive from Islamabad has left Pakistan vulnerable on all fronts. For a country which had mastered the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hound is suddenly under fire from both sides.

It’s difficult for the staunchest of Pakistan ally in the western world to gloss over Pakistan’s obvious complicity in giving shelter to the world’s most dreaded terrorist. Some like the French and the Germans are openly questioning Islamabad, revising their offers of military and even economic aid in some cases until Pakistan comes clean.

Then there are the Americans, past masters at the art of using carrot and stick to further their interests. In the immediate aftermath of Osama killing President Obama thanked the Pakistani leadership for their cooperation. But  chairman of the all powerful American foreign relations senate committee, John Kerry, was soon sent to Islamabad to do some plain talking about Osama receiving sanctuary from the ISI.

Worse yet for the Pakistanis, the western world is no longer willing to buy the old propaganda about jehadi outfits like LET and Jaish not being a threat to the white, Western order. For the last decade and a half, as India had grown hoarse warning the world of the danger posed by these organizations, Pakistan had the world convinced that these groups were Kashmir specific outfits fighting with home grown Kashmiri groups for their democratic rights against an oppressive Indian army.

That dubious and completely baseless argument has now been debunked by the visiting Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano who said in Delhi on Friday that “LET ranks right up there in the Al-Qaida and related groups as terrorist organizations, one that seeks to harm people and takes innocent lives.”

In another statement the US Secretary of State , Hillary Clinton, who made an un-announced dash to Islamabad on Friday, said the relations between US and Pakistan have reached a turning point, and that Pakistan must take more decisive steps against Islamic militancy.

Hillary Clinton with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (L), who made an un-announced dash to Islamabad on Friday. Image AFP Photos

It’s another matter that Ms Clinton— a known Pakistan sympathizer till now—has also said that there’s no evidence to suggest that any senior Pakistani leader knew about the whereabouts of Osama. But the statement is more an attempt to ease strains in a bilateral relationship which showed signs of falling off the cliff in the aftermath of Osama killing.

At the moment being caught out by the West— particularly the USA—is only one part of Pakistan’s problem.

Their bigger and perhaps more urgent problem is that they are now being targeted by jehadi groups who believe the Americans could have never found Osama without some help from Islamabad. So Pakistan is bearing the brunt of the jehadi revenge attacks targeting security establishments and personnel. The ease with which terrorists attacked the naval base in Karachi raised fears both within the Pakistan military establishment and across the world about the safety of Pak nukes and the unthinkably destructive consequences of such weapons falling in the hands of jehadi and terror groups.

So in a matter of weeks, the world has been turned on its head for Islamabad. From being a favorite of both the terrorists and the Americans, the Pakistani leadership is now a suspect in the eyes of both!

There are a couple of other factors adding insult to injury.

With the ongoing trial of David Headley -- where the true contours of the ISI and its terror links are finally playing out in a US courtroom on a daily basis -- India’s credibility is on the rise and there are more takers for its point of view of across the world.

President Obama's statement that Islamabad must get over its India obsession and stop looking at everything else through anti-India prism has raised hackles across Pakistan.

The worst and perhaps the most unexpected reversal for Islamabad has come from Beijing. Despite a friendship which both sides love to describe as “deeper than the oceans and higher than the mountains”,  China did not come out all guns blazing against either the USA or even India in their moment of crisis. Beijing maintained a tactical silence when Osama was killed, followed by a carefully crafted statement claiming that Pakistan was the biggest victim of terror. But the Dragon has shown little eagerness to be seen as overly supportive of Islamabad when it is being quizzed closely by the world for its links with terror groups.

But how is this growing isolation, inconvenience and embarrassment of Pakistan playing out so far as the India-Pakistan equation is concerned?

The unfortunate answer is not much. There are some advantages of the Pakistani lies being shown to the world but it really does not change the ground level equation much so far as Delhi is concerned.

And it certainlty does nothing to ease tensions between the two nuclear neighbours at a time when a cover story in The Economist has described the line of control separating the two countries as "the most dangerous border in the world".

We have to do something about this most dangerous border in the “most difficult neighbourhood in the world”— to use the words of home minister, P Chidambram—and make the subcontinent a safer and saner place. What could be those measures and how are they to be calibrated can be a subject of argument. But there can be no debate that the two hostile neighbours need to engage each other more productively to find a way forward.