The already-rocky relations between the U.S. and Pakistan now face the ultimate test after Osama bin Laden was discovered to be hunkered down in a million-dollar compound seemingly in plain sight, experts warned yesterday.
“Repercussions have the potential to launch the bilateral relations off a cliff, or to bring U.S and Pakistani strategic interests into better alignment,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a statement.
The U.S. has given almost $20 billion in aid to Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks — mostly in exchange for help in the war on terror. It seemed Sunday, however, that President Asif Zardari and his intelligence apparatus were out of the loop during the game-changing mission.
“The evidence suggests it was done totally by the Americans — and the Pakistan military, they were informed at the 11th hour,” said Hassan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “cooperation with Pakistan helped lead the U.S. to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding.
“We’re committed to this partnership,” she continued. “We think it is in the best interest of the security and safety of the United States.”
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said it was “inconceivable” that bin Laden did not have a support system within Pakistan.
Bin Laden was found living in a large, heavily protected complex near a Pakistani army base and military academy about an hour’s drive from the capital, Islamabad.
“There will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad,” said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul. “This is a serious blow to the credibility of Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, insisted that his government had no knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
“There are people in Pakistan, unfortunately, who have sympathies with Osama bin Laden, and obviously some of them had protected for him while he was there,” Haqqani said. “If we had really known where bin Laden was, we would have got him.”
In the end, what matters is that bin Laden has been caught and killed, said Mohsin Zaheer of Brooklyn, editor of the Sada-e-Pakistan Urdu-language newspaper.
“One point everybody needs to understand in this post-bin Laden era is that Pakistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. If Osama bin Laden can be killed, then anyone can be killed,” Zaheer said.
With Reuters and Ryan Chatelain