Globe Editorial

After raid, US and Pakistan confront a moment of truth

May 5, 2011

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PAKISTAN’S MILITARY leaders and their all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence branch (ISI) confront a humiliating either-or question in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a high-walled compound next door to Pakistan’s West Point. Either they knew about the safe house and its notorious occupant, or Pakistan’s military and intelligence chiefs have been shockingly incompetent.

The only realistic conclusion for US policy makers is that some of the Pakistani officials who have long insisted that bin Laden is either dead or hiding out in Afghanistan, Yemen, or elsewhere were knowingly peddling lies. Nuclear-armed Pakistan, however, is too dangerous to be allowed to become either a failed state or an overt adversary of the United States. Hard as it may be to repair, the US-Pakistan relationship needs to recover and emerge stronger from this incident.

Senior officials in the Obama administration have not been naive about the double game played by Pakistan’s army and intelligence bosses — the trick of taking US aid for anti-terrorism purposes while sheltering some of the world’s most vicious terrorists. A year ago, in an interview with CBS News, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of Pakistan: “I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is (sic), where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture, or kill those who attacked us on Sept. 11.’’

Now that bin Laden has been located and killed, President Obama should leverage the evidence of Pakistani duplicity into the more genuine kind of cooperation that Clinton invoked. At the least, he should demand that army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI head Shuja Pasha come clean about their dealings with Afghan Taliban leaders. Kayani and Pasha should be told that US aid to Pakistan will henceforth depend on their cooperation in controlling the main Afghan Taliban factions and guiding them to a tolerable peace agreement with the Afghan government. Pakistan’s military leaders must also stop using their influence with their country’s media to inflame anti-American feelings.

Bin Laden’s death could help the United States and Pakistan realize their common interest in quelling Islamic extremism. It is a good sign that Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders have so far limited their criticism of the United States to pro forma complaints about a violation of national sovereignty while expressing some degree of support for America’s pursuit of bin Laden. It shows that Pakistan’s leaders want to remain in Washington’s good graces. With skillful diplomacy, the humiliation the discovery of bin Laden’s hideout has caused the Pakistani military can be converted into a moment of truth in US-Pakistan relations.