Handing over the Taliban leadership should be the next step.
The daring covert American operation that assassinated Osama Bin Laden under the nose of Pakistan’s military establishment has sparked widespread public anger in the United States toward Islamabad, criticism from the US Congress for what appears to be a double game, and anger from the victims of 9/11 over Pakistan’s collusion in harbouring the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Barack Obama, in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, acknowledged that Mr bin Laden enjoyed “some sort of support network” inside Pakistan to be able to live for years at a high-security compound in Abbottabad, a city that houses numerous military facilities. He stopped short, however, of accusing Pakistani officials of harbouring the man who planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ted Poe, a Congressman from Texas, has sponsored a bill for cessation of US aid to Pakistan, at least until it becomes clear what role, if any, the government played in Mr bin Laden’s ability to avoid detection for years.
While cutting the aid to Pakistan would be a terrible idea, the United States must ally with the Pakistani people and should demand a set of fundamental changes in Pakistan’s policy of seeking “strategic depth”.
First, it is important for the people of Pakistan to hear from their government that their fledgling democracy is not traded for a failed military obsession. The government of Pakistan has a fiduciary duty to articulate that the foreign aid it receives is channeled in a way that will strengthen civil society and alleviate economic difficulties. The people of Pakistan also have the responsibility to demand from their government a set of fundamental changes. The Pakistani parliament should bring Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI) under civilian control.
Second, Pakistan needs a strong public relations campaign to salvage its international image, especially in the United States. A recent poll indicates that Pakistan has a lower approval rating among Americans than North Korea and Iran. Pakistan has the ability to change that. For instance, Pakistan could arrest Mullah Mohammed Omar and majority of Taliban leaders, who have been enjoying privileged status at the expense of American, Pakistani and Afghan people. Undoubtedly, an action of this magnitude will win many US lawmakers’ support and completely change the dynamic of the Afghan war. It will be inconceivable for the Pakistani government to explain to its people, that protecting and supporting Mullah Omar’s cause is worth $3 billion in US aid.
Third, Pakistan should realise that the Taliban will never succeed in Afghanistan, no matter how many suicide-bomber factories and madrassas Pakistan establishes in its sovereign territory. Afghanistan does not have a strategic policy toward Pakistani interests. Many Afghans, like many Pakistanis, would like to live in harmony and peace with their neighbour and respect the covenant of neighbourly relations. For the Pakistani government to persuade Afghan leaders to abandon their long term strategic partnership with the United States is an unattainable goal. Even if Afghan leaders treasonously submit to Pakistan’s unrealistic demands, such a decision will not be tolerated by those who have a keen interest in delivering democracy to the people of Afghanistan through an organic political process.
Finally, the ball is in Pakistan’s court. Islamabad has numerous options on how to proceed in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Pakistan can choose the high road and get tough on terrorism without cherry-picking terrorist groups. Alternatively, Pakistan can choose to continuously deceive, its people, its allies and its neighbors. For the survival of a modern Pakistani state, it should choose the former.
Either way, the United States and the Afghan people have demonstrated that with patience, perseverance and constancy, terrorism will be defeated and democracy and freedom will prevail.
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