Tag Archives: Pakistan

Yet More Pakistani Complications

Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in this compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1. (Source: talkingpointsmemo.com)

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death sent shockwaves through the United States. Barack Obama’s announcement of the mass killer’s demise was amazing and exhilarating to most Americans, and gave the President strong new legitimacy as the country’s leader and commander-in-chief.

But it also presents a tricky and troubling question: If bin Laden has been hiding in a compound in Pakistan (see picture) for quite some time now, how did Pakistan not notice? Or more worryingly, why did they not tell the US if they knew where bin Laden was hiding?

Osama was tracked down to a modest city in Pakistan called Abbottabad. It’s not particularly surprising or alarming that bin Laden was found in Pakistan. What is frightening is that he was hiding in the middle of a good-size town that is only around 50 km away from the capital of Islamabad. What’s more, the compound in which bin Laden concealed himself was only around half a mile away from a major military training academy.

All of this adds up to yet more turbulence in the already complex and conflicted relationship between the United States and Pakistan. As I mentioned in a previous post, things have been tough between America and Pakistan as of late, and the discovery of bin Laden is unlikely to help things much.

So far, Pakistan has played a key role in counter-terrorism operations and provision of intelligence to the US. Since the alliance between the two countries began after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan has generally assisted American forces in the fight against terrorism in the area. So the question of why they did nothing and said nothing about bin Laden is an important one. Bin Laden’s compound, which burned trash, had holes rather than windows, and featured walls up to 18 feet high, is hardly covert or discrete. And being just down the road from the Pakistan Military Academy, and located in a town known as a military stronghold, it seems ludicrous to say that no one in Pakistani law enforcement had any idea.

Which leads to two possible answers as to why Pakistan’s lips were sealed about bin Laden: Either the Pakistani military and intelligence officials were incompetent, or they were intentionally harboring the most notorious terrorist in the world. Both possibilities are grim ones. Pakistani officials have also been questioning why the United States didn’t give them some warning or wait for permission to carry out such an operation within Pakistan’s borders. This is an understandable desire on that country’s part, but there are good reasons why they weren’t told.

As I also mentioned in the above previous post, a serious trust gap is widening between the US and Pakistan. While neither side is directly scorning or condemning the other at this point, both sides are uncomfortable with one another. American leaders feel that Pakistan is not consistent in their handling of terrorism and in their alliance with the US. Pakistan, on the other hand, sees America as overstepping its boundaries with civilian collateral from US drone strikes, the discovery of a number of CIA agents operating in secret within their borders, and a general distrust of Pakistan’s leadership, especially the ISI.

This led US officials, and rightly so, to refrain from informing Pakistan about the operation to take out Osama bin Laden. To inform any Pakistani leadership would be to take away the security of the operation; this would perhaps even have allowed bin Laden to slip quietly away from Abbottabad, even as American forces closed in on him. The simple fact is, the US simply does not know enough about Pakistan’s desires and goals as they relate to al Qaeda and the Taliban. It’s apparent that at least some factions of Pakistani leadership seek to keep certain terrorist cells and organizations in existence, as this could presumably offer them some benefit. It’s unclear whether keeping bin Laden alive was intentional on Pakistan’s part, or whether they were simply worryingly ignorant of his presence.

Neither reason is likely to do much to help ease tensions between the US and Pakistan. With many questions yet to answer about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, Pakistan is finding itself under pressure to explain things. Whether Osama’s conspicuous living in Abbottabad was allowed by Pakistan or simply overlooked, this revelation adds another strain of unease between these nascent allies.

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A Bad Moon Over Pakistan

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Source: ACUS.org)

Things have recently gone south over the past weeks and months in an already-rocky relationship between America and Pakistan.

Truth be told, this relationship hardly goes back far. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 back in 2001 and the beginning of America’s War on Terror, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf agreed to give the US the support it needed in the Middle East, and even to help in America’s counter-terrorist aspirations in Afghanistan. Since joining the War on Terror as a US ally in 2001, Pakistan has lent its assistance to American anti-terror operations and opposed the Taliban within its own borders and across the line in Afghanistan.

Well… sort of. The young relationship between the US and Pakistan has run into tough times as of late, due to a distinct gap in trust between the two countries, and it seems that this nascent alliance is in danger of disappearing soon.

There are a few reasons for this. First, no one on either side seems to be completely sure of the other’s intentions. This has been something of a chronic problem since the beginning of the US-Pakistan alliance, but it has heated up to dangerous temperatures recently. Both sides feel as though they are being kept in the dark about the operations and intentions of the other. This is particular troubling from Pakistan’s point of view, as they are unsure of the extent to which American agents, technologies, and agendas are secretly operating in their country.

The US has been extensively using drone aircraft to strike Taliban and al Qaeda targets. These drones have not been popular with the Pakistani brass, who feel that the US should not be operating their weaponry inside of Pakistan’s borders, especially without consulting the military leadership in the very country in which they’re operating. On top of that, these drone strikes have killed a number of civilians, which the Pakistani government can hardly be blamed for objecting to. This adds yet another layer of complexity and distrust to the murky relationship between the nations.

Second is the covert nature of US operations in Pakistan. The CIA has had a shadowy involvement in Pakistan almost since the alliance began, and it’s still unclear to Pakistani officials exactly what that involvement is and how far it goes. This uncertainty surfaced violently after a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, fatally shot two Pakistanis in Lahore. A third man was killed as another vehicle rushed to assist Davis.  An unknown number (though it’s come out that the number is likely between 40 and 60) of CIA agents are operating in the country at this point, and after the Davis incident, that’s naturally unsettling to Pakistani leadership.

Finally, the US and Pakistan seem to have very different goals and visions, both for the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan as a whole, and these are coming into the light more and more as the Afghanistan endgame approaches. While the US wants to simply crush the Taliban into submission, the Pakistani government seems to have less-straightforward plans for the terrorist group. US intelligence officials have long known of Pakistan’s tactic of choosing between “good” and “bad” Taliban groups. Whether America likes it or not, Pakistan also has its own interests in Afghanistan, and is not above using certain parts of the Taliban to advance those interests. There have been reported incidents of the ISI (Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency) warning certain Taliban factions of imminent drone strikes or other attacks, as these factions hold strategic significance to the ISI or greater Pakistani command.

With all of these entanglements and trust deficits, it’s a small wonder that things are so tense between the US and Pakistan. It’s beginning to seem that what was never a committed or involved alliance is splitting at the seams. And when things finally begin to settle down in Afghanistan (pray that this comes soon), there is little way of knowing how the two nations will resolve their differences.

I used resources from the New York Times (clicking this will use a free view), Long War Journal, and the ACUS for this article. If you want to learn more about the issue, check out these links!

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Filed under International Focus, Military & Might, Politics & Power