UPDATE: Under the supervision of Pakistani intelligence, U.S. investigators interviewed Bin Laden’s three wives late last week.
Two weeks ago, as you know, Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs. The operation to take out public enemy number one, though successful, has fractioned an already capricious relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
Pakistan is less than pleased that President Obama ordered the raid without notifying Pakistani officials in advance. Now, echoing past fissures in U.S.-Pakistani relations, Pakistan is being uncooperative in lieu of the news that Osama Bin Laden was essentially hiding in plain sight.
Although President Obama did not directly accuse Pakistan of harboring Osama Bin Laden for five years in the affluent city of Abbottabad, he did convey his belief that there was likely a network inside of Pakistan that helped to keep him hidden. Largely for this reason, the U.S. is demanding that Pakistan allow American investigators to speak with Osama Bin Laden’s three widows. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s response has been less than forthcoming.
As a result, many in the United States argue that we should distance ourselves from Pakistan. Some even argue that we should cut off all aid to the country. On May 3, 2011, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced the Pakistan Accountability Act, which essentially freezes aid until Pakistan produces substantial evidence that it was unaware that Bin Laden was living in Abbottabad.
But it is not that simple. The U.S. and Pakistan rely on each other. In a May 9th op-ed on U.S.-Pakistan relations South Asia expert Michael Krepon notes that, “It would be a serious error of judgment, to conclude that this relationship cannot be salvaged.” Or as Senator Lugar said in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Pakistan is strategically vital.
There are a couple things that scare me about Pakistan, now more than ever. First things first, if we believe Pakistan when they assert they had no idea that Bin Laden was in Abottabad, like many, I regard that as equally unsettling that they were unable to detect Bin Laden’s presence when he was within walking distance of a major military academy. Additionally, due to the fact that there is an air of mystery regarding Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile and serious internal conflict within the country—I am less than confident that their weapons are safe and secure. Furthermore, they are rapidly increasing their nuclear stockpile in nuclear facilities that are located in areas populated by the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. Finally, as Tom Donilon recently stated, “more terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in Pakistan than in any place in the world.”
In short, Pakistan is an unstable country—with a lot of nuclear weapons and terrorists. On the other hand, Pakistan is also our “war-on-terror” buddy, as I like to call them. We fund their military to help in counterterrorism.
The U.S. is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Pakistan. It is hard for me to believe Pakistan’s cries of ignorance about Osama Bin Laden. But regardless, if we cut funding and ties to Pakistan we probably lose what little influence we have in an unstable nuclear weapon state and we forego their help on counterterrorism initiatives.
The relationship we have with Pakistan is imperfect at best, but things would probably be worse if the relationship didn’t exist at all.