It has long been open knowledge that Pakistan made a careful distinction between the terrorists that it could use to further its own foreign policy goals and those which it could not. It has also been assumed that it was, at times, willing to tolerate the latter if it was useful to maintaining the support of the former. India has complained incessantly about Isla-mabad’s double-talk on terrorism — largely to a sympathetic but passive audience of the international community. The shock of Osama bin Laden living in Abbottabad has at least shown up the consequences of this two-faced Pakistani approach in a way that no amount of rhetoric and dossiers from New Delhi could ever have done. Even within Pakistan there seems to have been a certain degree of shock that its culture of terrorist tolerance has reached such a point that bin Laden could live for years in its heartland without any hindrance or problem.
The question is whether this will make any real difference to this Pakistani distinction of “my terrorists versus the other terrorists”. The answer, sadly, is probably no. The fundamental reason for Islamabad’s support for this policy remains intact. Namely, that allowing various militant groups to flourish on its soil is a useful handle against India and its only leverage over Kashmir. If anything, Pakistan has discovered even more reasons to provide support for such groups. It now carries out a similar policy, through the Haqqani network of the Taliban, to put pressure on the government of Hamid Karzai. It also uses such groups to keep the western coalition forces in Afghanistan off balance. If anything, Pakistan’s addiction to the State sponsorship of terrorism has merely grown. We will hopefully find out over the next few months as to how bin Lad-en was able to live so comfortably inside Pakistan. There is a strong likelihood that he was able to do so because of supporters within the Pakistani establishment, military or otherwise.
This raises the real question that Pakistanis need to ask themselves. Islamicist militant groups have an agenda that only partially overlaps with that of the Pakistani state. And part of their agenda is to make Pakistani society follow their own theocratic norms and to work together in support of each other’s political goals. This extra-governmental agenda is enlarging their sphere of influence at the cost of Pakistani society and state as a whole. Islamabad must ask whether their strategy is worth potentially losing control of their own nation. Bin Laden’s years in Abbottabad are a warning that someone of his ilk may not have to live as covertly in the future.