Hillary’s Rejoinder: Interpreting the US Trust Deficit

October 31, 2009

Faryal Leghari

The expected barbs were finally delivered. Not being able to uphold the brittle charm for long, Hillary Clinton gave in to the bigger temptation of voicing what she actually feels about Pakistan. Simply, that it is not doing enough to capture and kill the Al Qaeda leaders present in Pakistan. In voicing this belief, the Secretary of State has reiterated the position adopted by other US officials in the past. One that conveniently overlooks Pakistan’s past successes in arresting and killing scores of top international terrorists and thwarting major attacks.

This sharp rap on the knuckles comes after praising Pakistan for its untiring efforts in counterterrorism! What contradictions, that too in the space of three days. One may excuse secretary of state’s little outburst for having suffered three days of unrelenting criticism levelled against the United States. So what if she holds a key government office, almost second in importance to the Oval Office, she is human and may have retaliated in defence of her country, increasingly beleaguered in Afghanistan.

Greeted on the day of arrival by a lethal suicide attack in Peshawar that killed more than a hundred people, Clinton’s visit will always be marked by a red blot in the memories of millions of Pakistanis. No stranger to terror attacks, even jaded Pakistanis were appalled at the ferocity of this particular attack whose main target were ordinary civilians in a busy commercial area. That is probably why both the Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan have disowned any involvement in the attack, saying their target is the security forces, not civilians. With the ongoing military operation in South Waziristan, Pakistan is facing a difficult phase in its counterterrorism drive. Not only is it facing a well-armed and capable insurgency, it has to cope with spiralling terror attacks in other parts of the country.

The first visit as secretary of state, to a country visited several times before, was indeed a difficult mission, requiring large doses of her legendary charm and warmth. There was simply too much of an anti-US sentiment brewing openly on the horizon over the $ 7.5 billion non- military US aid package recently signed by President Obama, the infamous Kerry-Lugar bill.

More significant was the military’s abhorrence of certain intrusive conditions within the bill that are perceived as controlling internal political and security matters. Clinton has, of course, rejected any conditions, terming the contentious points as part and parcel of the Congressional prerequisites. The agenda of the visit was to convey to the Pakistani people about the deep US commitment and how sincerely it wanted to help Pakistan in its hour of difficulty. All the right noises and financial pledges were made. If the idea was to honey the bitter pill before administering it down the throat of an errant child it was done so with flourish.

But where did this lead to?  Back to square one. By levelling the Al Qaeda charge against Pakistan, Clinton has reiterated the deep-seated suspicion and mistrust between Washington and Islamabad. She actually suggested complicity of some Pakistani officials in allowing terrorist sanctuaries inside the country. It implies tacit knowledge and facilitation of allowing these terrorists to plan and carry out terror attacks from within Pakistani territory. This again reflects recent statements from US diplomatic staff in Pakistan that have gone as far as calling for US led drone attacks in Quetta, capital city of Balochistan province, allegedly hosting the Afghan Taleban Shoura—Mullah Omar and cohorts.

The question is if US is so sure that the Al Qaeda high command is in Pakistan, given Clinton’s public venting of US frustration with Pakistan on the issue, why have they not shared that intelligence with Pakistan? Why are they mum over such a crucial issue that is pivotal to the whole war on terror according to their estimates? Would it not make sense to do that, formulate a joint operation with Pakistani intelligence and move in for the kill?  Would it not end this whole costly exercise of the war in Afghanistan and the hype of the Al Qaeda posing a mortal threat to homeland security? Or is it that sharing such vital intelligence with Pakistan’s bad boys —the ISI— would jeopardise the operation and alert the targets? This may make for a tepid plot for a second rate Hollywood movie, but it is just not plausible in reality.

Pakistan has suffered a lot over these past years. The Pakistanis as a nation are sick of being apologists for its radicalists, its madrassahs, for losing precious lives in terror attacks, 
for being blamed for everything under the sun. Those who are quick to blame the security establishment for breeding these extremists need to sit back and evaluate their charges within a larger perspective. While perceived injustices against Muslims, seriously flawed western policies, socio-economic problems, political instability have all contributed to growth of extremism in the country, blame can not be laid at any one doorstep. Cutting the ribbon for the nurturing and exploiting of the extremist industry was done by none other than Washington and supported by the world at large. Pakistan knows it is fighting its own war and for its very existence. Let there be no doubt that Pakistan is not united in its stand against terror, save for a marginal segment of crazed extremists who have their own vested interests in propagating terror. These are elements that have been popularly rejected by the people.

The US needs to come to terms with Pakistan’s objectives. More importantly, it needs to build trust and communication to alleviate the festering mistrust that keeps surfacing every now and then.

This is not how you treat a strategic ally.  Clinton’s reaction may have been strategically calculated to use an opportune time to deliver her real message, but unfortunately it obviated all the goodwill and warmth initially generated. Despite growing scepticism of its policy for Pakistan, there is still a 
considerable liking for US.  Losing this will be unfortunate as will be further erosion of trust and confidence between the respective governments 
and intelligence.

Faryal Leghari is KT’s Assistant Editor and can be reached at faryal@khaleejtimes.com


One comment

  1. I liked a comment on one of articles of PKKH which i dare to reproduce here.

    “If OBL and Al Qaeda are in Pakistan,then what the American and allied Forces are doing in Afghanistan.They should leave.”

    We missed putting such a question to hillarious Hillary.

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