After Bin Laden Raid, Might US-Pakistan Cooperation Get Better?

By Howard LaFranchi for The Christian Science Monitor

The United States launched a drone strike targeting militants in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan Friday, raising tantalizing questions in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death.

And does the drone strike suggest, despite official Pakistani protests to the contrary, that cooperation between the two countries not only continues but may in fact end up enhanced by Sunday’s operation, which was an embarrassment for Pakistan?

It was impossible to know if the strike, which reportedly killed at least eight suspected militants gathered in a house in North Waziristan, resulted from any information seized Sunday, since word of the strike came from Pakistani military officials.

But the drone attack appeared to bolster the argument, voiced by a wide range of regional and intelligence experts, that the US would be able to use Sunday’s raid to pressure Pakistani officials to side more unequivocally with the US in battling Islamist extremists.

Also on Friday, Yemeni officials reported that a drone strike there killed two Al Qaeda operatives.

Drone strikes have been a contentious issue in US-Pakistan relations. But it is also true that a considerable increase over the past year in US strikes inside Pakistan by the unmanned aircraft has not led to a breach in the bilateral relationship.

“It was proper for Obama not to publicly rub Pakistan’s nose in” the embarrassment of having bin Laden discovered in the country, says Paul Pillar, who now directs security studies at Georgetown University in Washington after a long career in US intelligence. “But in private, they owe us something…. We do expect more cooperation.”

That perspective is riding high in Washington – especially among those security analysts and former officials who consider the relationship with Pakistan, difficult as it is, too vital for the US to simply throw up its hands and leave.

If anything, the bin Laden operation should pave the way for the US to develop closer intelligence and military ties to Pakistan, says Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman from Michigan and former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

An advantage for the US coming out of the successful raid, he says, is that America looks competent and like it may be a good friend to have in the battle with extremism.

“For the people sitting on the fence, it’s like, ‘They [the US] may be really getting good at this, and maybe now is the time to make a decision to get closer,’” said Mr. Hoekstra, speaking Thursday at a discussion on Pakistan at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Dov Zakheim, a former deputy Defense secretary under President George W. Bush, agrees that the enhanced US stature after the raid should be leveraged to win stronger cooperation from countries like Pakistan that have hedged their bets about America’s staying power.

The successful operation against bin Laden “tells the world we’re not a spent power, we’re not a declining power,” said Mr. Zakheim, speaking Tuesday at a Center for the National Interest forum in Washington. “There’s a message there about US military power that is terribly important.”

Few experts in the bilateral relationship believe that Pakistan knew absolutely nothing about bin Laden’s whereabouts. But Mr. Pillar of Georgetown guesses that in the end, it may be learned that Pakistani officials simply didn’t want to know about something that existed right under their noses.

“My guess is … there was no effort to try to find things out,” said Pillar, speaking at the National Interest forum. “My guess would be, it’s not a matter of [Pakistani Army Chief] Gen. [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani or the head of the ISI [Pakistani intelligence agency] knowing who was in that compound – but more the inquiries to find out just never having taken place.”

Kayani this week warned the US that Pakistan would not tolerate another raid like Sunday’s. But similar categorical statements have been made before about US drone attacks, some officials and experts have noted – and the attacks continue, if Friday’s strike is any indication.

Despite the bluster at both ends about the US-Pakistan relationship, a difficult but essential partnership will continue because, with Al Qaeda still in Pakistan and the US still next door in Afghanistan, there is no alternative, some say.

“What’s the alternative strategy in regards to Pakistan? We can’t overreact; we can’t back off the relationship if you don’t have a new strategy,” says Hoekstra, addressing in particular members of Congress who are calling for reduced foreign aid and cooperation. “We’ve got enough relations in the world to worry about right now, rather than adding to the list.”

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