Give us bin Laden, Britain tells Pakistan

November 30, 2009

It’s the kind of language, or perhaps more accurately the tone, that can test the patience of any nation.

You have had eight years,  you should have been able to catch Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri,  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is reported to have said about Pakistan in an interview with the BBC following a conversation with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari over the weekend.

“We have got to ask ourselves why, eight years after September 11, nobody has been able to spot or detain or get close to Osama bin Laden. Nobody has been able to get close to Zawahiri, the No 2 in al-Qaeda. And we have got to ask the Pakistan authorities and security services, army and politicians, to join us in the major effort the world is committing resources to, not only to isolate al-Qaeda, but to break them in Pakistan,” he said.

Quite apart from the fact Brown chose to go public with his frustration with Pakistan just days after a U.S. senate report said that U.S. forces had bin Laden “within their grasp” in Afghanistan back in 2001, it comes when Pakistan is in the middle of an offensive in South Waziristan which has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks on its towns killing hundreds.

As the Times reports, Brown’s intervention upset Pakistan which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. ”We are doing what we can. We have carried two very big operations at enormous cost to the country,” the Times quotes Pakistan’s envoy Wajid Shamsul Hasan as saying.  Bin Laden, according to Pakistani intelligence was in Afghanistan, and if the West had information about him being in Pakistan, they should share it, the Pakistanis say.

Pakistan had captured or killed 700 al Qaeda members over the past eight years, a Pakistani foreign office spokesman said, adding nobody should have doubts about its resolve to fight them.

Indeed, some Pakistanis feel that Britain is not doing enough to fight terrorism. The Guardian ran a piece a couple of months ago quoting Pakistani officials as saying their country had become the “whipping boy” for Britain. ”

“Sometimes for our British friends the truth is bitter. We have somehow turned out to be a whipping boy, there is a long history to that. The British need to search their own house. Britain has to take responsibility and they have to look into the issues which are driving these youth to extremism, which is the third-generation British – they weren’t born and bought up in Pakistan,” the paper quoted a Pakistani diplomat as saying.

Pakistan has doubtless been selective in its targets, going after the Pakistani Taliban  with far greater purpose than it has with the Afghan Taliban. But is a public admonishment of a country of more than 160 million people necessarily the best way to get things done ?

India hasn’t stopped saying Pakistan isn’t doing much to bring all those responsible for the attacks on Mumbai last year to a court of law, producing an angry stream of words from Islamabad. The United States has repeatedly urged Pakistan to do more, both in public and in private.  The question now is how does a nation under such intense and unrelenting pressure react ?

(Photograph of Gordon Brown with Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari and his daughter Asifa in London in August 2009)

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