Part of Foreign Affairs Report: After Osama Bin Laden

The Pakistan Dilemma

What the Military’s Recent Behavior Says About U.S.-Pakistan Ties

U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday about Osama bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad, Pakistan raises questions about the health of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Pakistan seems to have helped the United States track down bin Laden’s lair, as Obama acknowledged. But it is unclear whether Pakistan was involved in planning the mission that brought U.S. Special Forces on helicopters from Afghanistan to deep within Pakistani territory to kill him. If it was not, the raid was yet one more example of the deep distrust between the United States and Pakistan and may reflect poorly on Pakistan’s ability to defend its air space against such intrusions -- something that would surely hurt its standing in the eyes of the Pakistani public.

In the United States, Obama’s announcement has been met with a flood of questions about the location of bin Laden’s hideout -- it was near a military academy and an army cantonment -- and what it means about the Pakistani military’s relationship with bin Laden. Proximity, of course, does not establish a direct association. But if evidence does surface that Pakistani authorizes were complicit in creating the hideout, then all bets are off. The U.S.-Pakistani friendship is in serious trouble.

Of course, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship had seemed to be spiraling downward for some time. On March 17, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, condemned an early March U.S. drone attack in the town of Datta Khel, in the North Waziristan tribal region, that is reported to have killed 41. In his public remarks, Kayani said that “such aggression against [the] people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances.” Privately, he warned U.S. interlocutors not to force him "to react" again, hinting at the possibility that Pakistan might start shooting down drones in its territory. At the same time, he announced that he would cut whole categories of U.S. personnel posted in Pakistan, although he did not say which ones.

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