J. Brett Whitesell
Whatever you thought you knew about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, whether it was accurate or not, cannot possibly remain the same now since Sunday, 1 May 2011. It is not necessarily the death of Osama bin Laden that is meeting such scrutiny from government officials, congress, and the American public so much as the process in finding him. Two weeks before, the press was filled with birth certificate allegations, Arab Spring, and how much money the U.S. is spending. One mission with a handful of helicopters and a small group of highly trained and expert Navy Seals (and apparently one dog) not only killed the most wanted man in America, but opened a Pandora’s Box filled with more information concerning Pakistan, the War on Terror, torture, and the process of how the United States and much of the world deals with terrorism than most intellectuals can handle much less ordinary citizens.
First, let’s begin with what everyone now knows, and truly everyone. Over 50 million Americans stayed up, after being teased for an hour or so, to watch President Barack Obama tell the world Osama bin Laden had been killed in a highly secretive military strike on bin Laden’s million dollar compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Where? Yeah, Abbottabad, an upper scale, low crime, relatively safe city in northern Pakistan. One neighbor interviewed said it was as close to Britain as you could get and still be in Pakistan. It was obvious Bin Laden wasn’t curled up in the fetal position in a dark cave squirreled back in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although hidden from view he was obviously living large without fear of being seen or caught. How did this happen? It appears he even had the house and compound built for him. Reports today reveal that the C.I.A. had found bin Laden’s trusted courier’s name through standard investigating procedures. The N.S.A. then came up with his real name; informants in Pakistan on the lookout photographed a truck license plate and found where the courier was going. The C.I.A. then set up a secret location in Abbottobad sometime last summer for surveillance that led to Sunday’s successful attack.
Out of this came allegations of whether he was really dead or alive, and whether “enhanced” interrogation methods (torture) led to the mission that would kill the most wanted man in the Western World? John Yoo, for those who can’t remember, was the government lawyer under George Bush that turned international law and the Constitution into an abortion in order to write a piece of law allowing Bush, Cheney, and the C.I.A. to extract answers from prisoners, or “Renditions,” at any cost including ignoring the Geneva Convention and simple human morals. Barely escaping prosecution, not only is Yoo standing up defending his, and the Bush Administrations actions, but he is now trying to take credit for the extraordinary events that unfolded on May 1st. Andre Cohn could not have said it better than in his commentary on May 5th in the Atlantic, “Former government lawyer John Yoo taking credit on behalf of the Bush Administration for Sunday’s strike against Osama bin Laden is like Edward John Smith, the captain of the Titanic, taking credit for the results of the 1998 Academy Awards. It appears that Yoo wants to transfer credit from the White House team that actually got bin Laden to the White House team that famously did not.”
Once Osama bin Laden was dead and the operation revealed, the lid on the box flew open with a firestorm of questions, accusations, threats, and introspections. If Pakistan and their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was so deeply entrenched in helping the United States battle terrorists, al Qaeda, and the Taliban, how is it possible Bin Laden, founder of al Qaeda, was living (quite comfortably) right under their noses, a mile from one of their military academies in a retirement community? Was it possible ISI knew? Could they have been helping Bin Laden? Pakistan officials went ballistic from the accusations. The initial shock that they didn’t get an invitation to the party made them look untrustworthy, completely embarrassed, and then infuriated. CIA director Leon Panetta said their consensus was “Pakistan might alert the targets.” Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir warned the U.S., “There would be disastrous consequences if it carries out any other unilateral raids.” With aid somewhere in the neighborhood of at least $20 billion in the last ten years the U.S. should have an “All Access” pass to Pakistan.
Congress, the media, and the American public, went from jubilation immediately to “How is it possible Bin Laden was living in luxury in Pakistan without anyone knowing? They weren’t alone. By midweek the Pakistani counterparts to the same aforementioned American list, were asking the same questions albeit in a different light; how could the Americans find Osama bin Laden, set up a secret base, fly into Pakistan, kill the head of al Qaeda in Abbottobad and fly out undetected? Many are questioning whether or not the strongest and most powerful organization in Pakistan can defend a nuclear-armed nation from India or even the United States? Zafar Hilaly, a Pakistani newspaper columnist, is quoted in the New York Times Wednesday by Jane Perlez as saying, “If these people are found to be incompetent, heads should roll.” A day later Perlez quotes Kamran Khan, normally a supporter of the military, “They have no answer, we have become the biggest haven of terrorism in the world and have failed to stop it.”
Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, trying to shield off questions concerning bin Laden’s hideout, claims that the “intelligence failure was made by the whole world, not Pakistan alone.” General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of Pakistan’s army, said that he would not tolerate a repeat of the American operation. Other government officials called it “unauthorized unilateral action,” “this event of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule,” and “The Government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the U.S., such actions sometimes constitute a threat to international peace and security.” So exactly whom are they trying to impress? They have been handed $20 billion (American) and then when the C.I.A and the N.S.A. along with the Obama Administration have to work without the Pakistanis in order to pull off the greatest mission in decades, they cry foul instead of applaud. These few days of condemnations threw up red flags all over the United States. Along with the fact that bin Laden was living the life of a diplomat on holiday was the C.I.A. had concerns over including the ISI. The Raymond Davis case should have clued everyone in on that. He was running C.I.A. operations the ISI knew nothing about. But when the most wanted target on the planet is eliminated they are not just caught off guard but furious. Something doesn’t look quite right.
Now we come to the real story. Whatever you thought you knew about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan probably wasn’t even close. In the next few days after the killing of bin Laden, everyone including the media, the public and those in Washington left out of the loop for the past eight to ten years, wanted answers about the contents of that Pandora’s Box whose lid flew wide open that night in Abbottabad releasing a plethora of information few were prepared to consume. It was obvious someone knew and now, with reactions that don’t fit the script, everyone is demanding an explanation. What is now surfacing for all to see is that the relationship with Pakistan is nothing like the foreign policy that both legislators and citizens can even comprehend, much less believe? How, now that we know, can we deal with Pakistan as status quo? For as much as Americans should, they won’t. Even as leaders try to soften the shock of what the box released, as in Rep. John Boehner’s statement, “I think it is premature to talk about cutting off aid to Pakistan” (AP). At a time when the budget is strapped and Republicans are threatening food for low-income families in America, $1.3 billion in aid a year to a country throwing out threats concerning an operation they should have executed five or six years prior, seems a bit bizarre. And yet that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Pakistan has allowed the northwest corner bordering Afghanistan to be a haven for Taliban insurgents as well as al Qaeda extremists. Most everyone somewhat believes that even if they don’t want to. However, they also think this is small area of the world in some remote mountains no human can live long that has very little consequence in their everyday lives. While it is indeed remote and would appear uninhabitable, many outlaw organizations rely on this lawless land. It is most of the American official’s understanding that for the aid sent to Islamabad they would help in the war on terror and fight the Taliban as well as al Qaeda. Coming to light, just recently, is the fact that Pakistan refuses to send their army into this region. They fight terrorists in other parts of the country but not there. The reason Davis was working in Pakistan on his own was because he was going after Lashkar-i-Taiba, a terrorist group in Pakistan that their spy agency, ISI, uses for attacks on India. The drone strikes by the Obama administration General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is protesting about wasn’t against Lashkar-i-Taiba but Tehrik-e-Taliban hiding in Pakistan and running raids killing American troops in Afghanistan. These are just a few of the groups either helping the ISI or the ISI is helping them. In some cases they are not a threat to Islamabad itself only to Americans in Afghanistan, in others they are actually helpful in the determent of India whom Pakistan considers their real threat.
So, is this new information just now coming to light? Hardly, it is though, just now getting to the mainstream media that is trying to make sense of it all and report back to an information-starved public. What Americans are coming to realize is that they need Pakistan in order to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs the aid but doesn’t necessarily need it from the United States. This is where it gets sticky. During all this information building and threats of reducing or eliminating aid, one writer asks (unnoticed) if China might pick up the difference in aid if the United States does indeed get frustrated with Pakistan’s tactics? That is when you saw an immediate, although uninformed, response from Boehner. The U.S. needs a bit more time to figure out how to deal with Afghanistan. So far it has only been able to put out a few fires from the onset after pushing out, not extinguishing, the Taliban. Cutting off aid to Pakistan will only bring in the possibility of China or Russia, which terrifies India. A nuclear-armed Pakistan with loose backing from China, India’s other invading neighbor in the past, would absolutely threaten the stability of the entire region. On top of this Afghanistan can’t be won, the Taliban returns without resistance from Kabul and both the Taliban and al Qaeda form their own sovereign state, the ultimate insult to those lives lost on September 11th, 2001.
There is a teeny, tiny bit of good news though in Pakistan. While the media is showing groups of bin Laden supporters burning the U.S. flag, which they would have been doing anyway, it is reduced to hundreds of protesters in the streets and not hundreds of thousands. The good news is the condemnations by the general public concerning fears of whether or not the government can protect Pakistanis from outside invasions, particularly from India, and how or why it is allowing terrorists to live in their neighborhood, if for no other reason than from a crime standpoint. This could lead to an overhaul in the ruling parties. In stark contrast to the anti-American al Qaeda supporters, are the new voices possibly sparked by the Arab Spring. Two days after the killing of bin Laden in the city center of Abbotabad young women protesting in the streets were heard chanting, “Shame, shame Pakistan Army, go to hell if you can’t defend.” Also heard was “Generals should resign!” “The Generals should wear our bangles and hand us over their weapons if they cannot guard the neighborhood of the Pakistan Military Academy.”
It has become quite obvious to not only the United States and the West concerning the intelligence failures of the ISI and Pakistani Army, or their covert benevolence toward Osama bin Laden, but also the people, in particular the young educated people of Pakistan that its out now. The lid flew open on Pandora’s box and it doesn’t appear anyone knows how to put it back.