US-Pakistan - What's Next?

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US President Barack Obama speaks while flanked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (R).

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, talks about the implications of the killing of Osama bin Laden on the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan and Matt Rosenberg, correspondent in Pakistan for the Wall Street Journal, reports from the ground in Pakistan on the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death.

The tension between the United States and Pakistan just increased another notch. Pakistan’s foreign secretary Salman Bashir warned the United States in a speech yesterday that there would be “disastrous consequences” if there were any more secret raids of the type that killed Osama bin Laden, carried out within Pakistan’s borders. The head of Pakistan’s army, General Kayani, ordered that American military presence in the country be reduced to the “minimum essential” and that CIA activity in the country be scaled back.

Last night news broke that ten people were killed near the Afghanistan border in the first US drone attack in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death. The relationship between the two countries seems to be crumbling, with some in the United States calling to cut aid to Pakistan. 

Pakistani Sovereignity

Rosenberg said the message from Bashir and other military officials in Pakistan yesterday was mostly a reflection of Pakistan protecting their sovereignty. The relationship between the countries has been contentious for some years, and the launching of a raid without Pakistan's knowledge into their territory probably embarrassed them deeply. Rosenberg doesn’t doubt that they are sincerely glad that bin Laden was caught, however.

The first thing that they all say is that they’re happy about this too. I don’t doubt that. There’s speculation that there may have been some elements of the military and the intelligence service, the ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence), involved in this, but among the leadership there is very little doubt. They wanted him caught too. Al-Qaeda’s not a group that they’ve had a real tight relationship with, and they have done a lot over the last decade to go after Al Qaeda guys. Khalid Sheik Mohammed was caught by the Pakistanis, for example.

General Kayani, the head of Pakistan’s army, spoke to Pakistani reporters about the need to reduce the number of American CIA operatives in the country. Markey said the military is under huge domestic pressure,as well as pressure from within, to respond to the embarrassment and perceived violation of their sovereignty.

They believe that they have to maintain and show toughness, and this is one way that they’re seeking to do that. The removal of US military forces from Pakistan, to the extent that they’re there — and they’re not there in great numbers — won’t do anything with respect to the kind of operations that were undertaken against bin Laden, but it gets at this underlying defensiveness.

This isn’t the first time this year that General Kayani had made the request. Following the killing by a CIA contractor of two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, Kayani had made similar remarks about the need to scale back CIA forces in Pakistan. Markey mentioned also that Pakistan had criticized the United States' use of drone strikes along the Afghanistan border earlier this year, leading to the increasing hostility. Yesterday’s drone strike sent a message.

To me, that signals that the… Obama administration is going to press its advantage. It’s going to seek not to back down under Pakistani criticism, nor to accept that the Pakistanis need a cooling-off period in order to resume business as usual, but to push the point that, not only was it not acceptable that the Pakistanis… claimed not to know where bin Laden was, but it’s not acceptable that other terrorists and militants are based inside of Pakistan. The United States is going to continue to do every necessary to go after them until the Pakistanis do everything that they possibly do to go after them, which the United States is not convinced is actually the case yet.

"Involved or Incompetent"?

CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress this week that Pakistan was “either involved or incompetent” in allowing Osama bin Laden to live for five years undetected so near a top military academy. Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf made a similar statement in an interview with NPR today. Rosenberg said Pakistanis are pretty upset with their own government right now.

You rarely see direct, direct criticism of the army and the intelligence service in the newspapers and on TV, and you’ve seen a lot in the last week in ways that you don’t often see here.

He said there is a “myth” in Pakistan that the military is the one functional institution and for many Pakistanis that myth was punctured this week. 

The fact that some helicopters could fly in here, there could be a forty minute fire fight, and they could leave, and nobody actually knew what was going on, is incredibly troubling for a lot of Pakistanis.

He also said many Pakistanis were dismayed to find out that bin Laden had been living in their country for so many years. Al Qaeda is something of an outlier, without the popular support enjoyed by other militant groups. Rosenberg said Al Qaeda was unwelcome by most Pakistanis. 

Pakistan intelligence service were responsible for some of the intelligence which led to the eventual location of bin Laden. Rosenberg explained that the ISI picked a phone number in 2009 that turned out to belong to the courier. While the ISI was unable to determine what it was, they turned it over to the CIA, who put it to use in locating the hideout.    

The Future of Wars in the Region

While the future of Pakistan-American relationships is up in the air, another international relationship is also at a turning point. With Osama bin Laden killed, many on both sides of the political aisle are questioning if there is a reason to continue the war with Afghanistan.

Markey said that it’s true the war was mostly justified by the 9/11 attacks and that the Obama administration has been clear about linking the war to the continued existence of core Al Qaeda leadership in the region.

The problem is, now that we’ve been at war there for nearly a decade, the [question of] how we leave and what we leave behind takes on a significance that in my mind goes well beyond what happens to Al Qaeda… There are direct ramifications for Pakistan’s future stability.

Markey said this moment should be viewed as an opportunity to push further militarily on the heels of victory, rather than drawing down, though an eventual drawing down should happen. He said that most Pakistanis don’t see the utility of a continued American presence in Pakistan, in large part because the average Pakistani doesn’t see any of the money from the US, which gets mostly sucked up by military and government budgets. that, he believes, must change, or else relations may get worse. 

The general Pakistani perception is that the Untied States has done far too little to help Pakistan in and of itself… that the United States has been entirely fixated on its own security concerns, primarily international terrorism… and that Pakistanis have been the ones who have suffered… There is a certain element of truth to it… on the other hand, it doesn’t get to the bottom of the problem that the Pakistani state, that is, the military and intelligence apparatus, has continued to do things… to provide haven to a variety of militant groups.