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On Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, US and Pakistan really are on the same team

US and Pakistani interests do diverge in some areas, but combating Al Qeada isn't one of them. In fact, the speculation around Pakistan's complicity following the killing of Osama bin Laden is misplaced and harmful to our future cooperation with Pakistan, making us less safe.

By Taha Gaya / May 4, 2011


The recent killing of Osama bin Laden has engendered speculation about the possible complicity of the Pakistani state in harboring Mr. bin Laden. But that speculation is misplaced and harmful to our future counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan, making us less safe.

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We must be very clear on where our strategic differences with Pakistan lie – and combating Al Qaeda is not one of them.

Where Pakistan and US interests diverge

Of course, Pakistan’s strategic interests in certain areas do diverge from our own.

Pakistan has an interest in negotiating a complex series of temporary peace deals with the militant Haqqani network, which attacks American forces in Afghanistan, to ensure that it is not forced to operate on several fronts within Pakistan as it pursues the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan may also seek to leverage the Haqqani network to ensure greater Pakistan-friendly Pashtun participation in any eventual Afghan national government that looks to incorporate and negotiate with former Taliban affiliates, while simultaneously providing Pakistan with a hedge against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan.

A similar interest results in Pakistan consistently turning a blind eye towards groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba that serve as asymmetrical proxies against India along its eastern border.

Pakistan has caught more terrorists than any country

But after three joint US-Pakistan operations since 2001 – the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi, Ramzi bin-al Shibh in Karachi, and Abu Zubaydah in Faisalabad – netting three top Al Qaeda figures in three major Pakistani cities in operations led by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a narrative of Pakistani complicity when it comes to Al Qaeda becomes unsustainable.

As Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan noted, “Pakistan has been responsible for capturing and killing more terrorists inside of Pakistan than any country, and it’s by a wide margin.”

Here, US and Pakistani interests are one and the same: If 3,000 American lives demanded that bin Laden be brought to justice, so did the 30,000 Pakistanis killed or injured in the global war on terror since 9/11.

Countering doubts about Pakistani complicity

The disquieting doubts raised by well-meaning analysts revolve around one central theme – the location of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

How can there not have been complicity when Abbottabad is only about 30 miles from the Pakistani capital, and is home to a Pakistani military base, a military academy, and many retired Pakistani officers?

The defense against Pakistan’s complicity starts – and should end – with President Obama’s remarks on the subject that “it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”


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