The Foreign Office may be the only entity in the world unaware of the fact that Pakistan has been used as a hideout by al Qaeda and its various allies. A day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she believed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan, the Foreign Office responded by rubbishing the allegations. We have seen this game being played out before. In 2010, Clinton made similar allegations about then-al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and the Foreign Office was similarly outraged at the suggestion. A year later, Osama was found in the garrison town of Abbottabad. With Osama, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Attash and Ramzi bin al-Shibh being among the many of senior al Qaeda operatives who were found in Pakistan, we have lost all plausible deniability.
Instead of issuing denials, we would be better served by acknowledging the possibility that we have terrorists in our midst and then explaining to the US how finding them can be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. The problem is that right now no one is inclined to buy those explanations. When the US and Afghanistan decided to start negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, with the chance of us being sidelined from the process, we were able to capture Mullah Omar’s second-in-command Mullah Baradar. With the US having levelled accusations that our intelligence agencies may be supporting the Afghan Taliban, such actions, based on self-interest, serve only to confirm its worst fears.
In this background, for Clinton to say what she did and follow it up with a plea for Pakistan to work harder to capture militants was not too inappropriate. What she should have been more careful about was the venue where her accusations were made. She gave this speech in India, which was sure to raise Pakistani hackles. But ultimately, whatever the venue, the responsibility is on us to root out militants that have found it all too easy to hide in our country.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.