US military information leaked on Wikileaks, the online whistle-blowing website, publicly cited a number of raw intelligence reports last weekend which, among other shortcomings, pointed fingers towards Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the counter-espionage agency, for continuing its support to Taliban militants Image Credit: DANESH MOHIUDDIN, Gulf News

A barrage of recent international criticism targeting Pakistan's main security apparatus for its failure to clamp down hard on Islamic militants has raised a number of powerful questions related to the future of the war-ravaged Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

US military information leaked on Wikileaks, the online whistle-blowing website, publicly cited a number of raw intelligence reports last weekend which, among other shortcomings, pointed fingers towards Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the counter-espionage agency, for continuing its support to Taliban militants.

The week ended with British Prime minister David Cameron during a trip to India, publicly accusing Pakistan of looking at ‘both ways', i.e. claiming to support the western effort to stabilise Afghanistan while exporting militancy. Taken together, these two instances along with other similar criticism in the recent past, only draw together a familiar image.

The bottom line of that image portrays Pakistan as a country which pretends to be vigorously fighting militancy in its surrounding region but has failed to break ranks with hardline groups. However, the direction taken in this emerging pattern presents a number of acute policy challenges for the western world in ways that will only undermine the course ahead.

To begin with, Pakistan's long list of sacrifices in undertaking the conflict with militant groups, must also put forward an obvious question. Can Pakistan's security apparatus, notably its military and intelligence services, truly be expected to offer support to those with a recent history of having attacked and killed the country's civilian and military functionaries? To that obvious question, the answer must be in the non-affirmative.

Principal stabiliser

But there are other compelling questions in sizing up this situation. As the US-led Nato forces continue to come under increasing pressure in Afghanistan following the accumulation of a record number of casualties, just in the past year, Pakistan's role as the principal stabiliser of the region only becomes increasingly significant.

For the moment, there is just no other country in the region surrounding Afghanistan which has the experience, the capability and indeed the reason to lead the fight against Taliban and Al Qaida commitments, than Pakistan's role in achieving this objective. Faced with a continuing threat to its way of life, Pakistan remains compelled to fight back and take charge of its turf along the Afghan border which is the focus of the militancy challenge today.

But there is also another compelling factor which dictates against intensifying the public accusations, especially a repeat of Cameron's remarks in India. In response, Pakistan's civil and military officials came out with expressions of anger — a feeling of being badly let down.

Without Pakistan's cooperation in ways ranging from continued logistical support for supply convoys heading from the country's coast to western troops on Afghan soil, and intelligence sharing with the West on the Afghanistan-Pakistan cross border movement of suspected militants, the already troubled western mission in Afghanistan is bound to fail.

But for the sake of argument, even if Pakistan continues to demonstrate extreme patience in the wake of continued provocations targeting its intent, the public's reaction towards cooperation with the western world is bound to worsen with the passage of time. Ultimately, Pakistan's civil and military rulers will simply not be able to resist popular pressure which will inevitably oppose further cooperation with the western world.

As a rule of thumb, application of further pressure upon Pakistan must be done only in private and discreetly without the intent of seeking to embarrass the country's army and its intelligence establishments.

On the contrary, a continued pursuit of the present trend to apply public pressure on Pakistan, will simply further vitiate the prevailing atmosphere between Pakistan and its western partners, and only intensify the stress surrounding a relationship which offers the only guarantee for an eventual defeat of hardcore militants from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

 Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.