Do we have clearly spelt out foreign and security policies? The civilian government tacitly admits that they have let the military deal with these matters. Yes, we have a Foreign Office, but how autonomous it is? It mostly acts as a spokesperson.

An unprecedented step was taken when Parliament held special sessions to examine certain aspects of our security policy and strategy, and called the top brass to brief it. Twice, resolutions were passed delineating specific steps. It is another matter that most of these directives have not been implemented.

An unresolved issue in this connection has been our military’s relationship with the Haqqani group of the Afghan Taliban. It has been a contentious issue. Pakistan has been accused of supporting the Haqqanis and the former US Military Chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, went to the length of publicly stating that the ISI was directly involved. Both the Pentagon and the State Department have been pressing Islamabad to launch an operation in North Waziristan where the Haqqanis have established a sanctuary for themselves.

There have been statements from our side contradicting Washington’s charges and advancing the point that Pakistan has to safeguard its own interests with particular reference to the endgame in Afghanistan. It has also been stated that Pakistan, too, has the right to talk to the Taliban if the US on its part, undertakes conciliatory contacts with them in Afghanistan.

This issue assumed added importance after the Salala episode, which had led to the stoppage of Nato supplies to Afghanistan.

Relations worsened to the extent that there were implied threats emanating from Washington about the possibility of direct American operations in Pakistan.

Conditions, however, appear to have improved after the restoration of the Nato container supplies. The held up Coalition Support Funds (CSF) amounting to $1.18 billion have been released to the military establishment for the services rendered. Our DG ISI, too, has paid a visit to Washington and discussed matters of mutual concern with the CIA and Pentagon high-ups.

The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, who has been loudly critical of Pakistan’s allegedly uncooperative behaviour, has now come up with a statement, which needs to be taken seriously. According to an August 14 Associated Press report he has remarked: “Pakistan has told US that it plans to launch combat operations against the Taliban militants in a tribal area near the Afghan border that also serves as a haven for the leaders of the Quetta affiliated Haqqani network…...Frankly, I’d lost hope that they were going to take that step.”

Panetta was cautious enough to add that he did not know when the Pakistan operation would start though he understood that it would be in the “near future.” He admitted that “the main target will be the Pakistani Taliban, rather than the Haqqani Network.”

Mention here may be made of General Kayani’s Azadi Parade address at Kakul on August 14 when he called for national unity in the battle against terrorism.

The question is: has a decision been taken to begin a full dress operation in North Waziristan? And if so, has the civilian government in Islamabad been formally consulted? Has the Cabinet or its Defence Committee considered the matter?

The latest report in the matter is somewhat reassuring.

Said the Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. General Khalid Rabbani, the other day: “I am not aware of any such operation.” He added that “political ownership and national consensus were prerequisites for any decision to launch a military operation in North Waziristan.”

It is to be hoped that this crucial matter would be taken up by the Government of Pakistan at the highest level and all its pros and cons thoroughly considered before a decision is taken.

In the meantime, another shocking attack by the Taliban at the Kamra Airbase has drawn the nation’s attention to the urgency of dealing with the Talibans decisively. The attack at the dead of night resulted in the killing of a security official leaving nine terrorists dead, an aircraft damaged and an officer injured. This was the fourth terror attack on Kamra since 2007.

Earlier assaults included attacks on the GHQ, Mehran Airbase in Karachi, Pakistan Ordinance Factories, Pakistan’s Naval Complex in Islamabad and many other places. Referring to the Kamra incident, the international media, especially Indian and American newspapers, have drawn pointed attention to our nuclear assets some of which according to them are kept at Kamra.

One may here mention that the concerned Washington officials have assured that the militants could not have access to the country’s nuclear weapons. “We have,” said State Department Spokesperson Victoria Noland, “confidence that the Government of Pakistan is well aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal and has secured it accordingly.......

“Pakistan, itself, has issued a statement denying that there was either any nuclear material or any nukes at the site and we don’t have any information that would contradict that.”

The Indian press has made much of the vulnerability of our security installations. The Hindu came up with its main editorial the very next day. Praveen Swami wrote an article in the same newspaper under the caption ‘Between the Tight Screw and a Hard Place’: No hard facts have emerged on how and when and if - what the Pakistani media is referring to by the codename ‘Tight Screw’ might unfold. The first shots in retaliation have been fired. Thursday’s Taliban attack on the Minhas base - home to key elements of the country’s nuclear arsenal - appears intended to signal to the country’s military commanders the costs of war they are on the edge of launching.

Praveen’s last paragraph merits reproduction: “Major parties like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf oppose a new anti-jihadist offensive, as do a broad swathe of Islamist groupings and many within the army.

“Forty eight hours before the Kamra attack, in a speech delivered to mark Pakistan’s Independence Day, General Kayani disagreed. ‘We are fully aware that it is the most difficult task for any army to fight its own people’, he said. ‘[But] no state can afford a parallel system of governance and militias’. He must now decide how much blood he is willing to spill to defend that proposition.”

Let us also not forget that President Barack Obama has already signed the Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act into law.

The above provides much food for thought for our politicians, civil society, media and, of course, the generals. Vital, indeed, it is that open-ended discussions are held and some sort of consensus evolved before the Rubicon is crossed.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst. Email: pacade@brain.net.pk