Around 800 Pakistanis rallied in Quetta on Tuesday over the death of Osama bin Laden. Were they celebrating the American action against this man who had twisted and hijacked their peaceful religion? Were they dancing in the streets and passing out candy because this man who had besmirched the image of Islam by connecting it with terrorism had at last passed from the scene?
No; they were chanting “Death to America,” burning an American flag, and mourning the death of a man they revered. Maulawi Asmatullah, whom Agence France-Presse identified as a “federal lawmaker,” led the rally, explaining: “Bin Laden was the hero of the Muslim world and after his martyrdom he has won the title of great mujahed.”
It was illustrative of where Pakistan stands in the fight against the global jihad, and where it has stood since September 11, 2001. The U.S. has paid billions to Pakistan since then in order to aid the Pakistani government’s fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban; it has been revealed, however, that much of that money has gone to those same organizations, and that the ISI, Pakistan’s spy service, has significant ties with al-Qaeda.
Accordingly, it was no surprise that on Sunday night, when Barack Obama delivered his self-aggrandizing address announcing the death of Osama bin Laden, he didn’t thank the Pakistani government for its cooperation in the raid on bin Laden’s compound: Pakistan was not involved in the operation. Express India reported Tuesday that “Pakistan was kept in dark till the operation to kill Osama bin Laden was successfully accomplished inside the country close to the capital Islamabad, the US officials said.”
One U.S. official explained why: “That was for one reason and one reason alone: We believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel… that only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of the operation.”
But why would the security of the operation have been compromised if our friend and ally knew about it? The former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was indignant after bin Laden’s death for just that reason: “American troops coming across the border and taking action in one of our towns, that is Abbottabad, is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan. It is a violation of our sovereignty.” It would have been “far better,” Musharraf asserted, “if Pakistani Special Services Group had operated and conducted the mission. To that extent, the modality of handling it and executing the operation is not correct.” This “lack of trust” between the U.S. and Pakistan “is very bad. If two organizations [are] conducting an operation against a common enemy, there has to be trust and confidence in each other.”
How did this “lack of trust” arise? Why did it grow so serious that the Americans carried out this important raid on Pakistani soil without notifying the Pakistani government beforehand? This is directly attributable to that government’s track record. The Telegraph reported Tuesday that the Pakistani government had sheltered bin Laden for ten years, and that “American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.” Indian journalist Chidanand Rajghatta noted that “the finger of suspicion is now pointing squarely at the Pakistani military and intelligence for sheltering and protecting Osama bin Laden before US forces hunted him down and put a bullet in his head in the wee hours of Sunday. The coordinates of the action and sequence of events indicate that the al-Qaida fugitive may have been killed in an ISI safehouse.”
Rajghatta also reported that bin Laden was killed where he had been living: in “a large mansion in a massive compound with 12 feet to 18 feet tall walls topped with barbed wire.” This compound was “not in a cave in some frontier mountain redoubt, but in a suburban neighborhood in a million-strong city just an hour’s drive from Islamabad, right under the eyes of the Pakistani military.”
Who put him up there? Who knew that he was there? How long was he there? The Pakistani government needs to come clean. It strains credulity to the breaking point to imagine that they didn’t know that he was there, and indeed, that they weren’t actively protecting him there. The death of Osama bin Laden in this fortress in a Pakistani military town suggests that the Pakistani government’s involvement with al-Qaeda is far deeper and more extensive than a few rogue elements of the ISI. Indeed, if Pakistan was sheltering bin Laden for ten years, whether in this particular safe house or in others, then this protection stretches back into Musharraf’s tenure as Pakistani President. Musharraf himself almost certainly knows about it, and has for quite some time – and yet is posturing in the international media today about a deplorable “lack of trust” that the Americans have demonstrated by declining to involve the Pakistanis in the operation against bin Laden.
It is long past time to end the fantasy-based policymaking that has counted Pakistan as a U.S. ally for so many years. Imagine the boost to the U.S. economy that could be occasioned by cutting off all aid to Pakistan today, thereby saving billions annually. In that event, the United States would no longer be in the position of being played for a fool by a Pakistani government that is more obviously than ever in league with our enemies, and of funding our own demise.
Cutting off Pakistan at this point, after the death of Osama bin Laden, is simply a matter of common sense and a healthy instinct for self-preservation. Unfortunately, both continue to be in short supply in Washington.
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