Quetta question

The rumours about key Taliban leaders lurking in Quetta are not new. They have been around for months, even years. Some claim that at one point big meetings of the Taliban were held quite openly at a set location each week and attended by hundreds if not thousands. Vague claims of the sighting of the one-eyed Mullah Omar have surfaced from time to time. The presence, in the Balochistan capital, of Taliban elements is also borne out by the fact that last year women were barred from certain restaurants whose owners were warned not to serve them. Against this background it is hardly surprising that a brand new controversy has sprung up. The Pakistani government, in response to an interview given to the US media by Anne W Patterson, US ambassador to Pakistan, has insisted there is a disconnect between her and Washington. The ambassador's claim that the Taliban are orchestrating anti-US operations from Quetta has been vehemently denied. Once more Islamabad has emphasized zero-tolerance policy against militancy. This is all very well. We hope it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. However we must point out that a crisis of credibility has existed in the past. Given this, we must ask why so many stories about the Taliban activities in Balochistan persist, if there is no truth to them at all. News reports with no substance tend to wither and die away. It is also a fact that these accounts have appeared in the media from many different sources. It is questionable if they can all be entirely inaccurate.

A point of crisis is now approaching. Washington is adopting an increasingly belligerent tone, combining praise with demands for more action. There has been mention in the media of proposals to send drones to strike targets in Quetta. The city is clearly emerging, as much as Waziristan, as the focal point of attention. Pakistan has every right to be angered by false charges. It must also oppose the strikes over cities with all the force it can muster. The very thought of bombs and missiles dropped over urban centres is just too terrible to contemplate. It must never happen. Washington itself must realize this. We hear there are officials there who have spoken out against the idea. These voices of sanity must prevail. But Pakistan too, while issuing its denials, needs to look into the facts. Its officials need simply to explore the Internet or articles written in past years about Taliban gatherings in Quetta. The reasons for the conviction that key members of the Afghan Taliban are indeed present in Balochistan need to be examined. The province after all neighbours Taliban strongholds and has been used in the past too as a place of refuge by those fleeing Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai was once among the safety-seekers. There may be others who have followed the same route. This possibility must not be ignored. Islamabad must build credibility and persuade the world that it is ready to hunt down the Taliban wherever they are based. In this strategy lies its own future safety and good standing in the international community.