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The mirror cracked from side to side

Barak Obama and his colleagues sat through the agonising final moments when 79 men of the United States Special Forces descended on a compound in Abbotabad. This was the culmination of several months of painstaking effort in gathering intelligence to locate the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. A few minutes later it was all over as Mr Obama remarked “We got him”. The final chapter in the search for America’s most wanted has now concluded. But another, in its turbulent relationship with Pakistan, has just begun.

US law makers are furious that Mr bin Laden was hiding not in some remote mountain cave in the Frontier Province, as was widely believed, but 30 miles away from Pakistan’s capital and a few hundred yards from the boundary walls of its top military academy. The Senate Intelligence Committee is pressing Islamabad for answers to two questions. First, what did the Pakistani army and its intelligence agents know about Mr bin Laden’s whereabouts, and second, when did they know it? Frankly, it does not really matter as Pakistan’s replies would be a combination of half truths and blatant lies offered with a straight and convincing face, as has been the practice over past years. The real question is whether US lawmakers will cancel the USD 1.3 billion in aid that America offers its dodgy ally each year or will they continue treating Pakistan in a manner that is self-deluding. Presently, tempers run high on Capitol Hill and one Congressman announced his intention of introducing a bill that would prevent the administration from sending any foreign aid until Pakistan can demonstrate that it had no knowledge of Mr bin Laden’s whereabouts. The legislation would effectively require the State Department to certify to Congress that Pakistan was not providing a sanctuary for the Al Qaeda chief.

In the final count, it is a hard choice for the United States to make. The situation is not dissimilar to the dilemma faced by a bank exposed heavily to a large corporation on the verge of default. America has invested heavily in Pakistan and continues to need its logistical support in its war in Afghanistan. Second, there are justifiable fears that in the absence of aid, Pakistan may fail completely as a sovereign state and head into anarchy. The little semblance of order that remains will give way to internal strife and chaos and increase the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of terrorists. This remains America’s worst nightmare. Third, Washington may construe that Pakistan will quickly go to China for help and the little leverage that it currently enjoys may be lost, destroying years of effort and investment. This is possibly why Steny Hoyer, the second ranking leader in the House Democratic leadership suspects it might actually be counterproductive to cut aid completely.

Ultimately, none of this will make much difference to India’s relations with America. Pakistan may well be a problem common to both countries, but India’s objectives in an engagement with its neighbour remain quite different to those of the United States. Symbolism is important in diplomatic communication and just before he went public with the news of the bin Laden affair, the US President apparently briefed some world leaders. The list did not include Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Possibly, Washington was miffed when India’s Ministry of Defence chose not to award the USD 10 billion contract for the supply of fighter aircraft to American manufacturers.

But now, it is Pakistan which is in the dock. Its intelligence agency can at best be accused of incompetence when it argues it had no knowledge of Mr bin Laden hiding under its very nose. In the worst it could be charged with complicity and connivance, having supported the Al Qaeda in the nastiest example of a double game. Analysts, US lawmakers and the administration believe it is probably the latter. But despite this, going forward, Pakistan may get away with a rap on the knuckles together with some noises about greater accountability from the State Department. Some heads may roll in Islamabad to justify action on their part and in a few months all may be forgotten. Wars and spy games will continue to dominate the geopolitical landscape in the region.

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