The massacre of 132 school children in Peshawar demands answers not just from the Pakistani establishment but also American policy makers who partly enabled the dangerous games to continue.

Now that there is some soul searching in Pakistan on where the jihadi highway has led the country, it would be helpful if the small section of the Obama administration that determines policy towards Islamabad engaged in a similar exercise.

It could reassess the starting point: what does it mean when a country openly uses jihadists as instruments of policy as Pakistan has done since the 1980s? From Robin Raphel, to Christina Rocca to Richard Holbrooke – all eminent policymakers on Pakistan – US officials have either chosen to look away or tacitly supported the idea as a means to force India’s hand on Kashmir.

Joining hands

When left with little choice, they have condemned terrorism is a broad sense but rarely called Pakistan out in public. Now that parts of Pakistani society are calling for the state-supported jihadi infrastructure to be wound up entirely, American officialdom should join hands with them.

Washington could push for real change, force the process of cleansing and help build a consensus against extremism instead of trusting (and approving) the Pakistan army’s plan to “manage” the various jihadis. But will it? Years of watching US policy towards Pakistan can force you to be a pessimist.

The Pakistani establishment’s association with terrorists of various hues is a well-established fact in the American capital. After all, hundreds of US soldiers have died in Afghanistan in attacks by terrorist groups patronised by the Pakistan army and the ISI, chief among them the Haqqani Network. It could be argued that if Pakistan had been on the right side, the US and NATO troops could have defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Various US presidents have bought every obfuscation from various Pakistan army chiefs over the years with good American taxpayer money. It would appear they accept the rules of the game set by Rawalpindi except for brief moments of rebellion.

The myth of “good” vs. “bad” Taliban is very much a best seller in Washington because the spurious distinction is also an instrument of US policy in Afghanistan. Even if US officials no longer believe – at one time they blithely did – that terrorists can be neatly compartmentalised and selectively targeted, they act as if they do.

Both American policy and official attitude reflect that sad reality. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif can come to Washington, collect a medal, go back and kill an Arab al-Qaeda operative to show his street cred, the country’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz can openly ask why Pakistan should make enemies of all terrorists and Hafiz Saeed, who is believed to have planned the attacks on Mumbai in 2008,  can hold a massive rally vowing “Ghazwa-e-Hind,” an apocalyptic war on India, even as official Washington pretends that there are no problems.

Operating in isolation

US policy on Pakistan for the most part is managed in a State Department section of the Special Representative’s office that allows those officials to operate in isolation, without considering the situation in the wider region. Attempts to fold the silo into the South and Central Asia bureau have failed because no bureaucrat wants to lose exclusive turf.

This suits Pakistan well. The Pakistan army can say that everything is India’s or Afghanistan’s fault and the silo faithfully sends up the message. It results in Pakistan exercising a de facto veto over what happens in Afghanistan, for which the “good” or the Afghan Taliban under ISI protection, are necessary.

Will the Peshawar attack wake up the US to hold hands with Pakistanis who want change and force the deep state to end the jihadi games?