THE BLOG

Loose canon

Britain's wrinkle-free Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose refreshing candor may fade with the inevitable erosion of office, has described Pakistan as "looking both ways" on the issue of terrorism in Afghanistan; which means cooperating on the one hand in the "war on terror" inside Pakistan, while aiding the Afghan Taliban against the Karzai Government and the American-led coalition forces.

Before rushing to judgment, let's first consider the situation from the Pakistan point of view. Its creation, the Afghan Taliban, were driven from the country in late 2001 because the leader of the group, Mullah Omar, had been sheltering Osama bin Laden. Other than refusing to give over bin Laden, the Taliban had no direct military quarrel with the U.S.

The Afghan Taliban are a potential instrument of influence for Pakistan inside Afghanistan (and against Indian interests there), as are the networks of Hekmatyar and Haqqani, two former mujahidin groups in the Pakistani-sponsored war against the Soviets in the 1980's.

Enter the Wikileaks documents. They indicate (though not conclusively) that the former head of the ISI, the Pakistani Intelligence Service, in the late 1980's, Retired Gen. Hamid Gul, has, inter alia, been encouraging the Haqqani network to plant Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) inside Afghanistan. This reflects, at a minimum, the loose canon under which the Pakistani Government has been operating.

Where is Gen. Gul (who incidentally, in an interview at the time, blamed 9/11 on the Mossad and the CIA) now? Is he free to roam around Pakistan spewing his anti-American venom and picking up recruits along the way? Have we reached a certain level of patsiness (call it diplomacy) that we continue to tolerate such an ambiguous situation? I am somehow reminded of a phrase by the late Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith from another part of South Asia: "the impression is somehow afoot here that Americans are remarkably susceptible to crap." (His cable from New Delhi startled a staid Washington at the time).