Sunday’s sudden capture of Osama bin Laden in close vicinity of the Pakistani army’s premier training academy has raised some troubling questions. By all appearances, he had been hiding in plain sight for almost six years. It remains unclear whether the Pakistani military was colluding with al Qaeda or really had just overlooked his compound. If the military knew his whereabouts, it most likely kept the civilian government in the dark. If it had no clue, it was because finding the al Qaeda chief was not a top priority.
Either way, the episode has put into stark relief the urgent need to address the gross power imbalance between Pakistan’s generals and politicians, whose views of the scourge of terrorism diverge. As I wrote in "Getting the Military Out of Pakistani Politics" (May/June 2011), whereas the government, led by the Pakistan People’s Party, unequivocally opposes violent extremists, the military continues to view some groups (such as the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba) as strategic foreign policy tools.
Suspecting Pakistan’s complicity in hiding bin Laden, some U.S. lawmakers, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.), have questioned the utility of sending additional aid to the country. Others, such as Representatives Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and Allen West (R-Fla.), have even authored legislation that would halt U.S. assistance to Pakistan if its deceit in hiding bin Laden is proven. But nuclear-armed Pakistan needs international assistance to keep its economy afloat and meet its long-term development needs. And, at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations today, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged caution, saying, “A legitimate analysis concludes that it is undeniable that our relationship with Pakistan has helped us pursue our security goals.”
The United States should take this opportunity to reset U.S.-Pakistani ties. First, with the Pakistani military facing increasing domestic and global scrutiny, the administration should demand that it sever links to militant organizations, or risk
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