The visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza could not have come at a more critical time. After the major terrorist attack in Mumbai Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned President Zardari and sought a meeting with the ISI Director-General for an appraisal of the incident. Zardari agreed to send him to Delhi. Apparently Pakistan Army chief General Kayani prevailed on Zardari to backtrack. Zardari claimed there was miscommunication and he had only agreed to send a junior Director. So one good emerged from the PM's move. It exposed the weakness of Pakistan's civilian government in relation to its army.
General Kayani reinforced his clout by declaring that if there were Indian troop movements on the border he would shift Pakistani troops from the Afghanistan border to the Indian border. This was a warning to the US that Pakistan could withdraw from the war on terror.
Overtures for a truce by Pakistani militants after the Mumbai attack got an encouraging response from the Pakistan Army. It described the pro-Taliban militants as patriots. In normal times one could have interpreted this as a precursor for dialogue to separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda. But the present timing excludes the possibility.
Before her arrival Rice made strong statements urging Pakistan to cooperate transparently and follow the evidence wherever it leads. The FBI team in India to assist investigations of the Mumbai blast will make its assessment about where the evidence leads. On available reports there is clinching proof of Pakistan based outfits involved in the Mumbai attack. That perhaps emboldened the Indian government to formally demand extradition of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Mehmood Azhar to India. The government warned that failure to comply with this demand would adversely affect Indo-Pak ties.
During the next thirty days before the Bush administration demits office we should know whether General Kayani will help make good President Zardari's assurances or not. We should also know whether the strong statements made by US leaders of both the outgoing and incoming administrations will be translated into meaningful action or not.
The war is against Al Qaeda. America, Russia and India have all suffered from it. The problem is that either part or the whole of Pakistan's security establishment is complicit with terrorism. President Zardari pursuing his own interests is apparently against terrorism. But as written earlier, General Kayani holds the key. Will he hunt with America or run with Al Qaeda?
Till now the Pakistan army appears to be arrogant because it holds the nuclear card. The possibility of its use by reckless self-destructive fanatics discourages conventional war to bring Pakistan to heel.
But India can neutralize Pakistan without conventional war. This is not the appropriate time to elaborate on that.
If General Kayani cooperates the demolition of Al Qaeda becomes comparatively easy. If he does not there could be complications. It is for the NATO powers to sort them out. Will they continue to rely on false assurances or take a clear stand? The Rice visit should give an indication.