We can come out stronger -Tariq Osman Hyder - Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44823&Cat=9

The American operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed has several implications for the global counterterrorism campaign, Afghanistan and Pakistan. While a significant boost for Obama and his Western allies and a setback for Bin Laden’s followers, it is unlikely to deter continuing attacks from his ideological adherents regionally and beyond. It could facilitate America’s quasi-withdrawal from Afghanistan and negotiations with all sides, including the Taliban.

There will inevitably be criticism from Afghanistan, India and the Western media as to how Bin Laden was able to install himself undetected in a medium-sized city. That he was able to do this demonstrated Pakistan’s failure to counterterrorism. It was perhaps unsurprising that Bin Laden chose to hide not in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he was being sought, but in a city, following Poe’s famous maxim that a public hiding space is often the best.

Such criticism is largely unfounded. Pakistan’s intelligence cooperation with the United States and the deeply unpopular facilities and access provided constituted the foundation for the intelligence gathering behind this and many previous operations to capture high-level Al Qaeda targets.

On one flank of Pakistan, India rides high on its economic buoyancy and American alliance and loses no opportunity to pressure Pakistan, to the extent of projecting a threatening military capacity even under the nuclear threshold that has kept the peace until now. Despite the resumption of talks, in real terms relations have never been worse. On the other flank Afghanistan’s occupation has alienated Pakistan’s Pakhtuns who outnumber those in Afghanistan, and fuelled extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, causing multiple attacks against civilians and military throughout the country. Thirty thousand civilians have been killed. One hundred and fifty thousand Pakistani troops are engaged in counterterrorism operations on the Afghan border, more than all the Western troops in Afghanistan. Over 5,000 Pakistani troops and security forces have laid down their lives and more have been wounded. The $85 billion cost to the economy does not provide fiscal space to regroup.

In Pakistan it is a time for reflection. There are many reasons to explain and understand Pakistan’s limitations in comparison with its successes. But there is a need to reassess and draw strategic and operational lessons from this current event capturing global imagination. It should lead to internal intelligence restructuring. Pakistan has a number of intelligence agencies and police investigation units but these must work better together. Terrorists, criminals and kidnappers which are increasingly operating across Pakistan must be targeted.

Road checks cannot be effective when colour photocopied IDs are accepted; these must be outlawed. Each checkpoint must be equipped with handheld scanners connected by Wifi to the central national database for verification.

The fact that American helicopters could fly deep into Pakistan from Afghanistan without apparent detection, despite admitted US military stealth and jamming technology, should worry air defence officials and military planners protecting the country’s nuclear assets.

Resources have been wasted in setting up additional infrastructure to create counterterrorism strategies. In reality, everyone knows what must be done: overcoming weaknesses in implementation is the key.

When Muslim countries are subjected to internal injustice or external humiliation there is a call to return to the classical and pristine era of Islam. Today in Pakistan the Taliban claim they stand for equity and quick justice which they compare to the state’s inefficient delivery, law-and-order breakdown, lack of respect for the rule of law, and impunity of those with power and resources.

With governance shortfalls and stagnating economic activity, such extremist appeals will continue to attract an increasingly marginalised and impatient population. The only option for Pakistan is to improve governance, particularly law and order, and concentrate on education and infrastructural projects, which will generate job opportunities. A mindset change is needed without damaging national security.

On the Afghan border it’s time to fence it despite its length, the terrain, and Afghan objections. Afghanistan can’t have it both ways, decrying cross-border infiltration yet opposing normal border controls. With India, Pakistan must make it plain that it can tackle terrorism more effectively if India follows up with action on its political protestations of wanting better relations and a stable and prosperous South Asia.

Internally Pakistan needs to work for progressively reducing its military and economic reliance on the United States to counter what will now be increasing US demands for more drone strikes, American intelligence presence, and cross-border operations.

Pakistan can come out of this stronger if it takes the right steps.

The writer is a retired Pakistani diplomat.

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