National Security Network

U.S.-Pakistan After Bin Laden

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Report 5 May 2011

Pakistan Pakistan


America found Osama bin Laden hiding practically in plain sight near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The suggestion that some parts of the Pakistani government, military or intelligence services were complicit in sheltering the al Qaeda chief is a sobering reminder that Pakistan is an extremely fractured, complicated country. America's interests in Pakistan are similarly complicated. No development can change the fact that America needs a relationship with Pakistan due to its strategic location, large and growing nuclear arsenal and leverage over radical groups. America can, and should, capitalize on bin Laden's capture to pressure the Pakistanis and bolster those in the government who aim to stamp out extremism. That pressure should be based on a sober knowledge of the facts about who in Pakistan was harboring bin Laden - not  speculation or frustration, however genuine.                                                           

Pakistan "remains at the core of US security interests," and the picture is complex. Center for American Progress's Peter Juul, Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams explain: "A simple analysis will accuse the Pakistani government-or at least its security establishment-of modulating its response to the Al Qaeda threat to extract funds from the United States to the tune of more than $20 billion since 9/11. But this ignores certain realities: Pakistani security forces have dramatically increased military operations against militant groups such as Tehrik-e-Taliban-who are linked to Al Qaeda-in both the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Paktunkhwa over the past several years. Al Qaeda has posed a real threat to Pakistan, inspiring militant groups responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis. Nor does this analysis recognize the fragmented nature of the Pakistani state, with deep fissures between the military and civilians, within the military and its own intelligence service, between the federal and provincial governments, and between rival political parties." As Katulis explains in Foreign Policy, this is embarrassing for the Pakistani government domestically: "The al-Qaeda leader declared war on Pakistan's leader in 2007, and tens of thousands of Pakistani citizens have lost their lives in terrorist incidents carried out by bin Laden's allies since. Yet the government in Pakistan could not or would not deal with this problem."

NSN Executive Director Heather Hurlburt notes, "Pakistan is not going away. To the contrary, it will soon surpass Indonesia as the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. It will still have nuclear weapons; a key piece of strategic real estate between India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran; and the cell-phone numbers of many vicious extremist groups. Experts struggle again and again with the question: Must we continue to engage with a society that is helping and thwarting us so vigorously at the same time? The answer, for all the reasons above, is yes." C. Christine Fair of Georgetown University adds that "Pakistan remains at the core of U.S. national security interests. Its security competition with India is dangerous. The United States has not yet learned the limits of diplomacy: it cannot engage India strategically (namely, the provision of the civilian nuclear deal) without considering the negative impact on its engagement with Pakistan. After the U.S. civilian-nuclear deal, Pakistan has set its own nuclear machinery into overdrive. It now has the fastest growing arsenal in the world. Equally important, Pakistan will remain a locus of terrorist groups operating in and beyond the South Asia region for time to come." [CAP, 5/4/11. Heather Hurlburt, 5/4/11. C. Christine Fair, Foreign Policy, 5/4/11]

Pakistan embarrassed; U.S. should leverage in its favor. Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel reports that "The extraordinary and dramatic killing of America's Most Wanted Man has brought confusion, embarrassment, triumph, regret and a resounding cold shoulder to the Pakistani people from the international community." But as Juul, Katulis and Wadhams at CAP explain, this can be used to America's advantage: "In the past week the United States obtained significant leverage over the Pakistani state-the leverage of embarrassment for the Pakistanis over the world's most wanted man hiding under its military's nose. The Obama administration should now use this leverage and all the tools at its disposal to tilt the balance in favor of those within Pakistan who favor full U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation. The U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistani territory is a major embarrassment for Pakistan's government and military... Embarrassment can be a powerful tool for those within the Pakistani state and security establishment who want to confront the terrorist threat and cooperate with the United States to do so. Going forward, the character of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will be determined by whether or not those in Pakistan who have refused to move against the full range of terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi continue to have the upper hand in internal Pakistani deliberations or whether different voices can emerge. And a clear U.S. policy offering both carrots and sticks potentially provides more impetus for change. The United States should structure its relationship with Pakistan to encourage and bolster those within Pakistan who wish to work with us to defeat our common enemies while isolating those within the Pakistani government and security establishment who continue to deny the reality of the militant threat within their borders and insist on a narrow, transactional relationship." [AfPak Channel, 5/4/11. CAP, 5/3/11]

It remains unclear who and what in Pakistan were complicit in hiding bin Laden. The Wall Street Journal reports, "U.S. and European intelligence officials increasingly believe active or retired Pakistani military or intelligence officials provided some measure of aid to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, allowing him to stay hidden in a large compound just a mile from an elite military academy." Georgetown's Fair writes that while it's still unknown who was involved, jumping to conclusions doesn't help: "It stretches credulity to the breaking point to believe that someone in Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies did not know about Bin Laden's whereabouts, and even afforded the world's most wanted fugitive a support network. John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser said that it is inconceivable that bin Laden did not have some support network within Pakistan, though he stopped short of saying that this support was official. It is possible that Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies succumbed to a profound level of incompetence. But ultimately such speculation is nonproductive. Judgment should be deferred until the numerous investigations are done." [WSJ, 5/4/11. C. Christine Fair, Foreign Policy, 5/4/11]

What We're Reading

President Obama ruled out publicly releasing photographs of the deceased Osama bin Laden, and White House officials said they would give no new details about the raid on his compound in Pakistan.

An international conference known as the Libya Contact Group, is meeting in Rome to discuss financial aid for Libya's rebels. 

Hundreds of Syrian troops stormed the Damascus suburb of Saqba overnight - breaking into houses and arresting about 300 people, witnesses say.

Egypt's former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly has been sentenced to 12 years in jail on charges of money-laundering and profiteering.

Workers at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant have entered one of its reactor buildings for the first time since it was hit by a powerful earthquake on 11 March.

Portugal will sink into recession this year and next due to the terms of its bailout plan, its finance minister has said.

Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno has been suspended from office for three months for alleged irregularities in overseeing contracts for public works.

Government forces in the Ivory Coast say they are now in control of the whole of the main city of Abidjan.

Seven detainees at an Australian immigration center in Sydney have been charged in connection with a riot which started a massive fire that damaged several buildings in the city center last month.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times says that efforts to justify torture after the killing of Osama bin Laden are cynical and destructive.

Richard Falkenrath writes that with bin Laden gone, life is about to become more complicated for U.S. policymakers trying to combat terrorism.

Doyle McManus argues that the spread of democracy in the Arab world, more than the death of Osama bin Laden, is depriving al Qaeda of its reason for being.