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The Pakistan Paradigm: Frenemies Forever?

The raid that Killed Osama Bin Laden exposed severe deficiencies in Pakistani intelligence, calling into question the reliability of that nation as a partner in the war on terror. What does the future hold for this strategic relationship?

The raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden has re-established America’s preeminence as the world’s leading military superpower, able to impose its will on any situation in the world at a moment’s notice. It also revealed the contentious nature of the US-Pakistan relationship, a process that has been in a state of ferment since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan that followed. While most intelligence sources had placed Bin Laden in the remote mountains of Pakistan’s western tribal regions, he had actually be living in modern conditions just outside Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad for a number of years. Was a critical ally of the United States in the so-called “war on terror” knowingly giving asylum to one of the most-wanted terrorists? If so, where was the breach in trust?

Since the Islamic extremists who were in control of the government of Afghanistan, known as the Taliban, were driven out by the invading US forces in 2002, Pakistan has harbored their remnants, with or without the tacit approval of the Pakistani government. Pakistan has been identified as the most dangerous place on Earth in part because of the presence of the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies, who have also taken up residence inside Pakistan. Since their base of operations in Afghanistan had been removed by the invasion and success of US-led NATO forces, they seemed to become integrated into the political culture of Pakistan, receiving support from the common people, and at best, salutary neglect from the Pakistani government. Pakistan became a haven for Al Qaeda and its leadership. The US knew Bin Laden and his minions were somewhere in Pakistan. They just did not know where.

All of that changed last August, when information became available to US intelligence forces that Bin Laden’s courier was making trips from the Abbottabad compound to Islamabad and elsewhere. The CIA monitored the courier’s movements, and soon it became known that this compound may be the place where Bin Laden was hiding. Oddly, Bin Laden was mere blocks from the Pakistani Military Academy, the equivalent of the US’s West Point Academy. It is unclear what Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, knew about Bin Laden’s movements. Regarding what upper echelons of the Pakistani government knew about Bin Laden’s presence, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said “somebody knew,” but he defended the Pakistani government by saying that he has seen evidence that showed they were unaware of Bin Laden in their midst.

Where the US government and its relationship with this combination “friend-enemy” nation should go as both nations move into a post Bin-Laden era is an open question. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for a reduction or elimination of billions of dollars in foreign aid to Pakistan, which, they say, cannot be counted as a loyal ally in the “war on terror.”  Others support cautious reconciliation with Pakistan, giving assurances never to violate its sovereignty unless US lives are directly at stake. Either way, Pakistan is still the most dangerous place on Earth, and both nations must recommit themselves to making sure Al Qaeda has no sanctuary in Pakistan.

Image by George Cassutto
Copyright 2011
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