A court in Pakistan Friday passed an order that freed disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qader Khan from the house arrest that he had been subject to since 2004, when the clandestine nuclear Wal-Mart that he had nurtured for decades first came to light. Global capitals 'regretted' this audacious judicial decision that made light of the grave nuclear transgressions that Dr. Khan had been guilty of - but to little avail. The Pakistani state appears to have succumbed to domestic compulsions and has decided to play up to the gallery and join the chorus that sees the tainted scientist as a national hero.
Exuding a sense of triumphalism, Dr. Khan responded to a media query about the international reaction by asserting: "Let them talk. Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our Prophet? Are they happy with our leaders? Never, so why should we bother what they say about us?"
Nationalism leavened with Islamic fervor was on full display and given the virulent anti-US/anti-western mood that now obtains in Pakistan, the Zardari-Gilani combine has chosen to venerate nuclear defiance and the sub-text of the Islamic bomb. This cock a snook development comes even as Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy of US President Obama, is set to visit Pakistan next week.
But this is not a stand alone event. Earlier on Wednesday, several banned terrorist related groups convened a meeting in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), and vowed to continue their jihad for the liberation of Kashmir and wrest it from India. Organized on the eve of Kashmir Day, Feb 5, the various groups that came together under the United Jihad Council included the Hizb-ul-Mujahedin, the Harkat-ul-Mujahedin and the Jaish-e-Mohammed among others. Rich in the rhetoric of jihadi violence, the meeting averred that notwithstanding the Mumbai attack, jihad could not be stopped by the imposing of bans on groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Media reports indicate that the local administration made no attempt to either prevent the meeting from being held, or apprehend those who were openly inciting violence.
Both these acts of defiance took place against the backdrop of continued terrorist intimidation, sectarian killings and an admission of loss of faith in the Pakistani judicial system. While the Swat valley has been over-run by the neo-Taliban, a group of worshippers were killed Feb 5 in a suicide bombing attack outside a Shia mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan in central Punjab. And to add insult to injury, the visiting UN Secretary General informed his Pakistani hosts that the UN would constitute a three-man commission to inquire into the assassination of former former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. It is instructive that a PPP spokesman added that the "findings of the (UN) commission will lead to eventually exposing the financers, perpetrators, organizers, sponsors and conspirators of the terrorist act and bring them to justice". Incidentally, it is these very objectives that India is seeking as regards the Mumbai terror carnage.
Be that as it may, it is evident that Pakistani President Asif Zardari and the PPP do not have confidence in the prevailing investigative cum judicial capacity within the country to get to the bottom of the killing of their leader and hence the recourse to the UN. Liberal opinion within Pakistan is dismayed at the manner in which the state, guided by a shadowy but potent military presence, is either unable or unwilling to deal with the multiple transgressions that are either being condoned or tacitly supported - as in the case of the AQ Khan network or the state support to jihadi groups. Welcoming the UN intervention despite its implications for national sovereignty, it is instructive that the Daily Times, Lahore noted editorially Feb 6 : "The Commission may finally not get anywhere, but unlike many of Pakistan's own commissions in the past, the world will know where inside the machinery of the state - people are unwilling to answer questions. Finding that out will help the international community
determine the nature of terrorism incubating in Pakistan and threatening the outside world."
The nature of this terrorist threat was manifest in the Mumbai attack on Nov 26, 2008 and what India and the rest of the international community, whose citizens died in that incident are concerned about is the nature of the 'incubation' and the role of the Pakistani establishment in the process. State support to terrorism motivated by religious distortion, abetting nuclear proliferation and a strategy of defiance and denial by a deviant regime was the tripod on which the Bush administration unleashed its 2003 war against President Saddam Hussein and a hapless Iraq.
Clearly the wrong country had been implicated - and almost destroyed - while the real malignancy continued to thrive within Pakistan and has now permeated Afghanistan. The US and the international community that monitors Pakistan are not unaware of the murky truth that is embedded within the entrails of the Pakistani state. But a Faustian bargain had been struck by the US (and China) during the Cold War and the Pakistani military was encouraged to invest in jihad and acquire nuclear weapons.
From Ronald Reagan through to Bush II, the major power grid of the world turned a blind eye to the tangled transgressions of the Pak military. Those chickens are now coming home to roost on the Obama watch - and like the financial cum economic meltdown that he has to deal with - the new US president who is yet to complete a month in office will have to address this complex security challenge on a high-priority basis.
The current defiance of the Pakistani establishment only makes a difficult situation even more brittle on the eve of the Holbrook visit.