The latest terrorist attack outside Lahore suggests that Pakistan at last will be compelled to confront the stark choice before it. The timing of the attack is significant. It came days after President Obama bluntly warned Pakistan to deliver on the war against terrorism or face the consequences. It came after official US sources openly accused the ISI of protecting terrorists. It came after President Zardari’s assurance that Pakistan would fully cooperate with America. Obama’s ultimatum seemed to work.
The terrorist attack in Lahore seems to mirror Osama’s ultimatum: if Pakistan wilts under US pressure, it will have to face the consequences! Islamabad therefore is caught in the crossfire between Obama and Osama. Both, the government and the people of Pakistan, should recognize very clearly the reality they have until now denied. They must either sincerely team up with America, or appease the terrorists. They cannot hunt with the hounds and run with the hares.
The initial Pakistan response to the attack after its security forces overcame it was encouraging. Interior Minister Rehman did not mince words. The attack was by home grown Taliban based in Waziristan. No foreign hand has been accused yet. So where will Pakistan go from here?
If Pakistan decides to continue on the same positive path it must identify and weed out the rogue elements in its security apparatus that collude with the Taliban. The Zardari Government will have to formulate an acceptable peace formula for NWFP and Baluchistan, where the Taliban presence is strongest, in order to isolate terrorists from whatever popular support they can summon.
Eventually, after providing convincing evidence of serious intent to stamp out terrorist havens inside Pakistan, it must seek credible collaboration with India and Afghanistan to eliminate terrorism from the entire subcontinent. The latest attack occurred under eight miles from the Wagah border. India cannot remain complacent.
In the days to come New Delhi will have to watch very closely how Pakistan deals with the terrorists. In the final analysis Pakistan will have to capture Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri who are based in Pakistan, and bring them to justice. Nothing short of that will carry conviction about Pakistan’s sincere commitment to the war on terror.