Word that Pakistan has arrested–no, detained–Masood Azhar, the leader of the terrorist group that pulled off the Mumbai assault is being greeted by great skepticism in both the U.S. and India, and with good reason. For one thing, Azhar had been similarly arrested in 2001, after his Lashkar-a-Taiba terrorists invaded the Indian parliament, but released 11 months later. But more important, it is finally dawning on some in Washington–if not exactly those packing their bags and shredding their files in the Bush White House–that Pakistan has played us for fools ever since September 11, 2001.
I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the print edition this week, specifically with regard to the war in Afghanistan, but the combination of the Mumbai attacks and the incoming Obama Administration should represent the beginning of a new era with regard to US-Pakistani relations. There are those who counsel continued caution: the democratic government of Asif Ali Zardari is fragile. It has been making the right noises. It is beginning to fight the jihadi threat in its Northwest province and tribal areas. Zardari intends to lower the temperative with India and has begun to cooperate with Afghanistan.
All true, perhaps. But we simply don’t know yet how much of this is words…and how much control the Pakistani Army–the true governing force in the country–still retains. Let’s hope Zardari survives and prospers, but in order to verify his benign intentions, the Pakistani President should:
1. Either prosecute the Lashkar-a-Taiba leader as quickly as possible, or turn him over tot he Indians for prosecution.
2. Send a private message to Mullar Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban who operates openly in the Pakistani city of Quetta, that his presence is no longer welcome in Pakistan–and that his shura will be subject to the same sort of unmanned aerial strikes as have recently been visited upon the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan. (Note: Pakistan’s army has been willing to go after the al-Qaeda linked Pakistani Taliban, who represent a threat to its hegemony–but it has given safe haven, indeed tactical support, to the Afghan Taliban, in the hope that they keep Afghanistan weak and unstable.)
3. Give U.S. government interrogators direct access to A.Q. Khan so that we can learn the extent of his nefarious nuclear proliferation around the world. (Of course, Pakistani officials can be present during the questioning.)
4. Allow the presence of U.S. military training teams to teach counterinsurgency tactics to the Pakistani units fighting the Islamic extremists in the northwest. (And President-Elect Obama should make clear that the only U.S. funds that will be available to the Pakistani military will be targeted to the counter-terrorist effort–in other words, no more siphoning U.S. aid dollars to finance anti-Indian terrorist groups like Lashkar-a-Taiba or to build the Pakistani Army against the Indian threat.)
The world has become a more dangerous place because the Bush Administration took its eye off this particular ball in order to fight the war of choice in Iraq. It is up to the President-elect to let the Pakistanis know that the days of American carelessness are over. It is up to the Pakistanis to make clear that they truly want to be our ally in the struggle against violent Islamic extremism.