The Pakistanis are blah-blah-blah-ing about how much they disapprove of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but don’t believe it for a minute. First of all, the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, need the billions of dollars they get from the United States, not to mention the modern equipment. And second, as the Guardian reports, the United States and Pakistan had long ago agreed that the United States could strike bin Laden and his cronies.
Like the drone attacks—vociferously protested by the ISI yet winked at (the United States has used a base in Pakistan for its drone attacks)—the bin Laden raid too had a green light from Islamabad. Says the Guardian, ten years ago the United States and Pakistan signed a secret deal:
“Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Al Qaeda No. 3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.”
Which is exactly what happened. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, and there are plenty of forces inside Pakistan who bitterly resent the United States turning their country into a shooting gallery. But going forward, the real question is whether the United States will continue to funnel billions of dollars into Pakistan’s corrupt, paranoid, Islamist-infiltrated armed forces. Or whether Washington will halt its support for the armed forces in an effort to encourage the strengthening of the civilian parties, political forces, and civil society groups that can wrest control away from the generals who’ve ruled Pakistan since the 1950s.
As Reuters reports, there’s a window of opportunity—though it’s closing fast—for Pakistan’s civilians to outflank the military:
“Pakistan's civilian government has a rare opportunity to bring the powerful security establishment to heel as the army writhes in humiliation over the surprise swoop by US forces on Osama bin Laden. It will probably miss it.”
Because the military and ISI are under withering criticism at home for their failure to find bin Laden and their utter incompetence in failing to detect or intercept the US raid, the Reuters reporters make clear that the civilians might have stepped forward to beat down the army. But, according to Reuters, “More than a week since the bin Laden drama, there have been no signs that the politicians are pushing back or that the military is ceding ground.” In fact, according to the New York Times, the military leaders are attacking the civilian government, trying to shift blame.
There’s no doubt that the ISI is feeling the heat. The United States says that the ISI leaked the name of the CIA’s station chief in Pakistan—the second time in six months—in what seems to be a shot across the bow of the United States. The Pakistan army and the ISI, who support the Taliban, are trying to show the United States that it can’t survive in the region without them, especially since Pakistan controls the supply lines for the war in Afghanistan. Not only that, but the ISI’s trump card, they believe, is their influence over the Taliban. If you want to made a deal with the Taliban, you’ll have to deal with us, says ISI. Maybe so—maybe the United States does have to include the ISI in a political settlement of the Afghan war as it winds down its forces. But no one should see Pakistan as some insuperable obstacle. In the US-Pakistan dynamic, it’s the United States that is the superpower. Pakistan, deathly afraid of India—itself a rising superpower—has nowhere else to go. In Afghanistan, going forward, President Obama has to remember who holds most of the cards. If he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, he can do so, and drag Pakistan along.