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Cameron and the question of Osama

world Updated: May 05, 2011 02:08 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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The discovery nine months ago that Osama bin Laden hid so close to the heart of the Pakistani security establishment raises “lots of questions” about the al Qaeda leader’s support infrastructure that Islamabad will now need to answer. So says David Cameron.

But as ties between the West and Islamabad appear to sour once again — how many ‘new lows’ can you hit? — the British Prime Minister may want to go over some of his recent statements about Pakistan.

The coalition government’s year in office has been marked by a flip-flop over Pakistan, and Cameron’s demand for “answers” about Osama contrasts sharply with his suggestion last month that Islamabad may have turned the corner on terrorism.

On his visit to India last year, the British leader declared, "We cannot tolerate... the idea that this country [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror." The remark caused a storm in Pakistan. In Britain, the opposition Labour party, many of whose MPs rely on the votes of working class Pakistani-origin constituents, called Cameron inexperienced and a "loudmouth."

Then, on a visit to Pakistan last month, Cameron called for a “fresh start” with Pakistan, pointing to “a huge fight taking place by the government against terrorism.” Now, Cameron is being asked if he was too hasty in issuing the clean chit and announcing £650 million in aid. Keen not to upset Islamabad, Cameron said he does not want to start “a massive row” with Pakistan.

British strategic sources say Cameron is trying to strike a balance between working with democratic authorities in Pakistan and fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan — a strategic priority.

The British do not want to do anything that would foment instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan — with some 80-85% of supplies to Afghanistan coming through its eastern neighbour.

Cameron may have many questions. The only trouble with Bin Laden’s execution is that we won’t hear the answers from the horse’s mouth: the secrets lie buried with him in his watery grave.