General Martin Dempsey, a top American military official, has said the obvious geopolitical reality: without Pakistan’s active participation, it was not possible for the US to defeat Al-Qaeda. Re-nominated by President Obama for the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey was expressing his thoughts about the war on terror in the Afghan theatre at a congressional hearing on Thursday. Hence, ties with Pakistan and its military, he concluded, was a strategic imperative for the US and that had been maintained with good results. The caveat was that Pakistan could not, he repeated the position usually taken by Washington, come up to US expectations.

What the general and other American leaders have not, somehow, been able to appreciate is Islamabad’s evident domestic compulsions; its first and foremost obligation to watch its own national interests. Thus, Pakistan has to move warily when it comes to targeting its own nationals, inhabiting the sensitive tribal belt, and cannot possibly be expected to go the whole hog against them because an overwhelming majority of them are peaceful citizens. Some might be, and indeed are, sympathisers of the militants for various reasons, not the least being Islamabad’s alliance with the US whose occupation of Afghanistan they view with great anger and deep resentment. The backlash of Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror comes back to haunt it in the form of frequent, vengeful bombings. However, despite bearing the brunt, it has launched military campaigns whenever it became necessary resulting in much more Pakistani casualties – nearly 40,000, including 5000 service men, dead – than the total allied forces’ loss, not to talk of the horrendous damage its economy has suffered. It would, therefore, appear quite churlish to point fingers at Pakistan’s intentions in combating terrorism that as, General Dempsey admits, is a common enemy. He acknowledges the good role Islamabad is playing in maintaining security along the Ground Lines of Communications.

Prime Minister’s national security and foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz has also talked about Pakistan’s importance in the Afghan context. On the eve of his visit to Kabul, he said that the US was aware of the essential nature of Pakistan’s role both in the pullout and post-pullout dispensation. One hopes Mr Aziz succeeds in convincing President Karzai about Pakistan’s seriousness about working with Kabul in the joint venture of sorting out the Afghan imbroglio.