Abbottabad is a quiet, lovely city. The Stimson Center convened a Track II workshop there for rising Pakistani strategic analysts. The city’s most prominent feature is Kakul, the Pakistani military academy where outstanding recruits begin their studies and service careers. On April 23rd, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, visited Kakul to congratulate recent graduates. According to press accounts of the Army Chief’s remarks, Kayani claimed that Pakistani security forces “have broken the back of terrorists and the nation will soon prevail over the menace.” Kayani also asserted that the Pakistan Army “was completely aware of internal and external threats to the country.” Osama bin Laden’s compound was a mile away from the parade ground where Kayani spoke.
Pakistani authorities must be feeling acute embarrassment and resentment at this juncture: embarrassment at Osama’s presence within Pakistan, despite numerous official denials of this possibility, and resentment at a severe breach of Pakistani sovereignty in a settled area. Had U.S. special forces and intelligence failed in this effort, the repercussions on U.S.-Pakistan relations would have been horrific. Having succeeded in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, the repercussions are extremely trying but not grounds for a divorce. Pakistan’s civil authorities have put a positive gloss on Osama’s death, pointing to longstanding and oft-repeated U.S. statements that, if the location of al-Qaeda’s leadership were correctly ascertained, military action would result. That Pakistan’s security apparatus appears to have been kept in the dark speaks volumes about the growing difficulties of this partnership.
As a reflection of his competence and Pakistan’s extremely troubled internal and external security environment, General Kayani received a three-year extension by the current Pakistani civilian government. The Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, has received two one-year extensions. The presence of Osama bin Laden near Kakul reflects very poorly on both of them. The number two ranking al Qaeda figure, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the worst offenders of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, are widely believed to be on Pakistani territory.
Hard times lie ahead for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Our interests in Afghanistan diverge as well as converge. Groups that engage in violent acts against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and against targets in India are based, trained and equipped on Pakistani soil, without serious interference by Pakistan’s security apparatus. It is more far more convenient and popular for Pakistani politicians to rail against U.S. drone strikes than against extensive Muslim-on-Muslim violence within their country.
Osama bin Laden’s violent demise comes at a time when U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan are reaching the half-trillion dollar mark. It is far from clear that the tactical achievements of U.S. forces there can result in long-lasting gains. It is even more apparent that Pakistan loses by being a safe haven for violent extremists. Osama’s death provides an opportunity for Pakistani and U.S. authorities to reconsider the sources of their deeply troubled relationship.
Note to readers: This piece has also been posted on the Stimson Center’s website.