US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's Pakistan visit has been a lesson in adroit diplomacy. Against the backdrop of the Peshawar carnage, she delivered a measured message, allaying fears about the conditions in the Kerry-Lugar Bill, praising the Pakistani military's efforts in South Waziristan and reaffirming the US-Pakistan relationship. But there was a sterner message couched in that non-confrontational approach. Whether Clinton's blunt comments regarding Islamabad's seeming duplicity in taking on the al-Qaeda leadership widely believed to be headquartered in South Waziristan were a deliberate ploy or merely a reaction to hostile questioning by Pakistani students and journalists, the message was clear: Washington has not been deceived.
Other statements made by her regarding the denial, the wilful blindness so prevalent in the Pakistani polity and politics, go to the heart of the problems plaguing the country today. The political space for secular parties has been occupied by weak, squabbling actors. Coupled with this is the continuing process of radicalisation of the Pakistani military and society begun under Zia-ul Haq. In the absence of a credible opposition that can function as a safety valve harnessing the people's discontent over ineffective governance and perceived American infringements of Pakistani sovereignty Taliban-style extremist factions become the only remaining lightning rod for popular resentment. In this environment, for Pakistani politicians to play to the gallery by taking populist stances on issues such as the Kerry-Lugar Bill and relations with India is marked by short-sightedness of the worst kind. By doing so, they actively contribute to the shrinking of the political space available to them, pushing more people to sympathise with hardliners who are perceived as fighting to defend a beleaguered nation and religion.