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Deepening Troubles in U.S.-Pakistan Ties

Author: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor
May 9, 2011


Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani defended Pakistan's military and intelligence services (Telegraph) in a speech to parliament today, dismissing any allegations of "complicity or incompetence" in providing a haven near Islamabad for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He blamed "all intelligence agencies of the world" for failing to find bin Laden, though he called for an inquiry into the matter.

Yet the United States has signaled it will raise pressure on Pakistan (NYT) about whether its government, military, or intelligence knew of bin Laden's hideout. The Obama administration is stopping short of outright accusations and says Pakistan remains a crucial ally. But the questions raised in the wake of bin Laden's killing by U.S. forces, and the unauthorized raid itself, are fueling widespread Pakistani anger and resentment toward the United States. At stake is a relationship the United States depends on in its fight against Islamic terrorism, notably al-Qaeda worldwide and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"I've not seen any evidence, at least to date, that the political, military, or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, Pakistan," National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (Bloomberg) said May 8 on CNN's State of the Union. But Donilon noted the vast cache of data seized in the raid, which may or may not have information about any official Pakistan role in hiding bin Laden. President Barack Obama, on 60 Minutes Sunday night, said that both the United States and the Pakistani government needed to investigate any complicity. The White House has called on Islamabad to allow U.S. investigators to question bin Laden's three widows, who were in the compound during the raid by U.S. Special Forces.

Grievances on both sides are deepening. CFR's Daniel Markey points out that U.S.-Pakistan relations are already strained by mistrust over the fight against Islamic terrorism, as well as by the recent flap over the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in the killing of two Pakistani men in Lahore.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, notes that Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies have lost more officers in the war (BostonGlobe) against militants than any other country. And while some in Pakistan are directing their anger at the military and civilian authorities (Independent), others rail that the "violation of Pakistan's sovereignty due to the covert U.S. operation merits revision of Pakistan-U.S. intelligence cooperation," as Rizwan Ghani writes in the Pakistan Observer.

Many U.S. experts believe that as long as al-Qaeda and its supporters, including militant Taliban, can find sanctuary in Pakistan, the organization remains a danger internationally as well as to U.S. efforts to secure Afghanistan. "The fact that bin Laden was hiding in the heartland of the Pakistani nation and that he's being eulogized by senior members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and other jihadist groups shows how much al-Qaeda is entangled in the Pakistani jihadist establishment," terrorism expert Bruce Riedel told CNN. "It will continue to pose a threat as long as it has these Pakistani allies."

The prospect of further deteriorating relations is of concern to both countries, but it remains to be seen whether mutual need will be enough to keep the relationship from crashing and burning. "Pakistan needs the U.S. for its economic aid, and Washington needs Islamabad to continue its fight against terrorism and because it is home to the most important routes supplying the war in Afghanistan," writes Susanne Koelbl in Germany's Der Spiegel. She says one Pakistani official told her that any talks the United States has with Pakistan going forward, there is one condition for Pakistan: "No tricks." Adds Elizabeth Rubin in the New York Review of Books: Pakistan is harboring U.S. enemies, even those, one could argue, of its own healthy survival.

Additional Analysis

CFR senior fellows Daniel Markey and Stephen Biddle discuss the implications of bin Laden's death for reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, U.S.-Pakistan relations, and other issues in this media conference call.

It's unlikely that bin Laden's death will mean the end of al-Qaeda, say seven CFR experts in this roundup.

Relations with Pakistan have grown increasingly strained, but many members of Congress argue that the United States cannot afford to abandon the country again--a view the Obama administration strongly endorses, writes Emily Cadei on


This CFR Crisis Guide explores Pakistan's history, shaky civilian-military relations, and scenarios for the country's future.

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