The terrorist attack on the  Kamra Pakistani air-base  near Islamabad on August 16 and the developments over the last ten days  in Rawalpindi and Washington DC have brought to the fore the many complex contradictions  that animate the US-Pakistan relationship and the  ostensibly “joint” campaign against jihadi derived terror.

In the immediate aftermath of the Kamra attack,   which has been attributed to the Tehreek-e-Taliban  Pakistan (TTP)  and its alignment with the Haqqani network and the al-Qaeda – the internal debate in Pakistan  proved  instructive.   As  monitored  through  the domestic Pakistani  audio-visual media and on cyber-space, the debate   reflected what  may be called the predictable  and strident dominant view that was nationalistic and  perhaps removed from reality - and a more muted  and objective assessment about the reality of  the attack on the air-base.

The former school chose to focus on the positive outcome of Kamra – that the  attack was effectively foiled by the local Pakistani  air-base personnel  who killed the ‘enemy’ and prevented any major damage to the aircraft in the base. Glossing over the enormity of  such infiltration and possible collusion from within the ranks of the  air force personnel -  it was highlighted  that this operation demonstrated   the ability  and resolve of the Pakistani security establishment to deal with  such  anti-national elements. The sub-text also alluded to the ‘foreign hand’ – the fact that the attackers had access to high tech equipment and surveillance and  both India and the US were not so subtly invoked.

The minority view within Pakistan dwelt on the need to take an objective view of the Kamra attack and linked it with  similar terror group attacks on the  naval base  in Karachi in May 2011 and the assault  on GHQ, Rawalpindi in 2009.  The central question raised was  - has the Pakistani military been infiltrated  by the ideology espoused by the terror groups such as the TTP and its affiliates ?

The establishment in Rawalpindi – HQ of the Pakistani military – has been reluctant to address  this issue in public though   the  conjecture is compelling.

Beginning with the mysterious  plane crash  in  August 1988 that  led  to the death of   General Zia ul Haq and the subsequent attempt on General Musharraf’s life in 2004  - the role of certain air force personnel was suspected and a sectarian Shia  angle probed.

In more recent years, the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 by his own personal security staff  over a blasphemy issue – again related to the extreme religious ideology espoused by the assassin – indicated the manner of  such permeation and infiltration  among some sections of  the Pakistani security  personnel. The most high profile case of such links with right wing ideology is the one related to Brigadier Ali Khan  who was arrested in June 2011 and convicted in August 2012  for wanting to bring in an “Islamic revolution”  in Pakistan.  However the details of this case remain shrouded in secrecy for Brigadier Ali is reported   to have been critical of  the  top military leadership over the bin Laden issue – and alleged that the Pakistan Army was complicit in allowing the al Qaeda leader to live in Abbotabad.

Despite the fact that they are allies / partners in the fight against terror that began in October 2001, US-Pakistan relations hit an all time low  in the latter half of 2011 and this was driven by the bin Laden operation and the ‘friendly-fire’  attack on Pakistani troops – which in turn led to the closure of supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan.  The troubled relationship has since been repaired – but the scars and the contradictions remain on both sides.

It is revealing that the anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is steadily increasing and a Pew survey concluded in June 2011 that  almost  three-in-four Pakistanis (74%) consider the U.S. an enemy. This figure has moved up  from 69%  in 2011 and 64%  in 2009. The Pentagon and GHQ Rawalpindi have  had two very different set of objectives since September 2001 – and while this fundamental contradiction  was  acknowledged in private – by both sides – a public facade was maintained that the two militaries were  together in the war against terror.

The reality is that since October 2001, the Pakistani military has sought to play both sides – that is engage selectively with the US in the global  war against terror, even while quietly supporting the ‘good’ and ‘tame’ groups that were advancing the Pakistani strategic objective in the region. The US in turn is committed to ensuring that Afghanistan does not revert to its pre 9/11 status, wherein  the ruling dispensation in Kabul was a safe  haven for  extremist ideologies and related terror groups and expected Pakistan to support this position in word and spirit.  This  is an  objective shared by many regional players – including India – which was deeply scarred in December 1999 during the  Kandahar hijacking.

However the consensus in GHQ Rawalpindi is that Pakistan can continue  with  this support to some terror groups, while those  like the TTP need to be eliminated.

In a candid admission, former Pakistani envoy to the US, Ambassador  Husain Haqqani noted in Washington DC (Aug 24)  that given the realities and contradictions in the US-Pakistan relationship, an amicable ‘divorce’ was desirable. He added that the army generals  still defined what constitutes the ‘national interest’  in Pakistan and he personally  advocated greater civilian control – a position that lost him his job!

Haqqani asserted of the US expectation  : “Equally unrealistic is that Pakistan … will give up support for jihadi groups that it deems to be a sub-conventional force multiplier for regional influence.”

And as noted Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa points out, despite General Kayani's claiming that the war on terror is Pakistan's  own war,  there is no shift in Rawalpindi's policy towards terror supporting organizations.  Siddiqa  adds: "Groups  such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi , which have safe haves in the country (Pakistan) continue to thrive."

India  will have to ponder deeply over this fundamental contradiction in  Rawalpindi  as Delhi  reviews its relationship with its adversarial neighbor and there is talk about the PM Dr. Manmohan Singh making a historic visit across the Wagah border.