For the United States, Bin Laden is history. He is an after-thought. And it is almost certain that the Central Intelligence Agency has moved onto its next target. But for Pakistan, the death of the terrorist kingpin is not over as U.S policy makers debate Islamabad’s role in the war on terrorism.
Since the news of Bin Laden’s death, Islamabad’s elites are being attacked and accused of harboring a famed terrorist leader. In his latest piece for The Daily Beast, Salman Rushdie boldly stated that Pakistan should be declared a terrorist state for playing a “deadly game” with America unless Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, or the ISI, can offer “satisfactory answers.” Rushdie is right to demand an answer but wrong to insist that Pakistan be isolated for protecting proxies and pariahs.
Less than a week after Bin Laden’s death, there are important details that have emerged that need to be answered. When did Bin Laden arrive in Abbottabad? Why did the local owner of the compound rent the home to an individual in Waziristan? Why did a rival to the once-deadly-terrorist leader of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Masud live in the same compound? And why was there indication that the compound was being expanded? What we have are details of a deadly mystery. What we do not have is any indication that Pakistan’s senior leadership had knowledge that al Qaeda’s elite moved to and from Abbottabad.
Immediate answers to the “after-Bin-Laden” mystery case have yet to be provided. We have to accept that the details about the legendary terrorist leader that will likely unfold over the coming days may not satisfy the American or Pakistani public. Newspaper sensationalism over who-knew-and-why adds to the fury inside both countries and detracts from the more important facts.
We should focus on what we do know. Bin Laden, and hundreds of other senior and low-level al Qaeda members, have been apprehended inside Pakistan with joint cooperation among the CIA and ISI. The kill-and-capture of al Qaeda operatives is a win-win situation for both countries. Mission accomplished.
In truth, caution defines the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. All intelligence agencies protect sources and methods. The CIA and ISI both have their dark secrets. And there will always be distrust and distance between them. Counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and Pakistan is imperfect and has its limits. Only when mutual interest is established can the two agencies agree to capture — or kill — top al Qaeda operators. In a world driven by spymasters, there are no good guys or bad boys. There is only strategic benefit.
The most pivotal question that deserves attention is how to manage a delicate U.S.-Pakistan relationship. What matters most now is that Washington and Islamabad reaffirm their commitment to eliminate the plethora of local (and foreign) terror organizations that destabilize the region. In an ill-defined relationship, we have to be realistic. America cannot expect Pakistan to chase its insurgents. To expect Pakistan to disentangle its ties with local jihadi groups is unrealistic at this time. Nor can Pakistan expect that America offer aid and assistance without being held accountable.
While important questions deserve answers, this is not the time to marginalize or punish Pakistan while Americans celebrate the death of a global terrorist ringleader. This is not the time to withdraw U.S. funding from Pakistan. But it is time to redefine the relationship.
The United States has a right to demand that Pakistan continue the fight against extremism and support Washington’s efforts in Afghanistan. It is also Pakistan’s right to ask that America refrain from ending an alliance that offers Islamabad security overtures against India and potential adversaries. Both countries may no longer view each other as indispensable allies, but the two ill-suited partners can not deny that neither one alone can terminate the terrorists that thrive there.
Farhana Qazi is a Fellow at the Center for Global Policy and an internationally recognized public speaker on conflicts in the Islamic world. She is the author of Secrets of the Kashmir Valley (Pharos, 2016). She is the recipient of the 21st Century Leader Award, presented by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) for her service to the U.S. government. This article was originally published by Reuters on May 4, 2011.