Pakistan’s Cruel Summer

LAHORE – July was one of the roughest months in Pakistan’s history. The country’s establishment was blamed for duplicity in the American war effort in Afghanistan, backing both sides – the United States and the Taliban – at the same time. There was considerable public anger in Pakistan at the way British Prime Minister David Cameron handled such suspicions, some of which was directed at President Asif Ali Zardari, who decided to proceed with a planned official visit to London despite Cameron’s harsh language.

Public anger at the charges coming from America and Britain about Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) increased as round-the-clock television coverage showed the devastation and suffering caused by floods in the country’s northwest, the worst in more than 80 years. The military launched a major effort to help those affected. Its commander, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, whose tenure in office was recently, and unusually, extended for an additional three years, was alone among Pakistan’s senior leaders in visiting the flood-affected areas and showing concern about the suffering. And this was not the only crisis in which the military leadership seemed to be doing what the public thought was right.

The Wikileaks publication of raw US intelligence reports from Afghanistan confirmed what had long been suspected. A number of field reports described contacts between the ISI and the Taliban, even as the ISI was engaged in fighting some the Taliban in Pakistan. The records contained firsthand accounts of the anger felt by Americans at the ISI’s unwillingness to confront the insurgents, in particular those who were attacking US and NATO troops near the Pakistani border. The ISI seemed to be keeping its lines of communications open to some Taliban in the hope that they could be used as a reserve force in case of another military confrontation with India or a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

This theme of apparent Pakistani duplicity was picked up by Cameron. In a speech delivered before an audience of Indian business leaders in Bangalore, he accused Pakistan of being on both sides of the Afghan equation.