Denials and signals

It’s getting hot in here

In the past few days, the Pakistani government—from Gen Musharraf, to the army PR spokesman and to the foreign office spokeswoman—had the same reply for America’s defense secretary, its intelligence chief and Afghanistan’s intelligence. “Baseless”, that delightful mainstay of Pakistani diplomatic vocabulary was used to the point of exhaustion. So much so, that when Indian authorities alleged that Pakistani troops had fired at Indian positions to provide cover for infiltrating terrorists, they had to find a new word—“ludicrous”.

The Americans are speaking rather plainly about Pakistan’s duplicity on fuelling cross-border terrorism (into Afghanistan) while receiving money, materiel and accolades for fighting it. A singing canary was produced by the Afghan authorities telling television cameras what most people already know—that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is in a ISI safe-house in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Timing plays an important role in the US-Pakistan balancing act. The Pakistani army conducts a major operation against al Qaeda/Taliban, as usual, at a time when the US defense secretary is visiting Afghanistan. Musharraf’s message—we are doing what we can. The Americans notch up the public pressure on Musharraf just ahead of the Pakistani army corps commander’s conference. America’s message—don’t get ideas, we are here for a purpose.

But what’s with Pakistan’s violation of the ceasefire in Jammu & Kashmir? An attempt by renegades in Pakistan’s military establishment to throw a spoiler? Or, a message by Musharraf’s military establishment itself after the Indian foreign minister’s “open but firm” trip to Islamabad.

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