Pakistan displays competing interests as it answers questions on bin Laden raid

Although it gave a heated defense of its commitment to fighting terrorism, Pakistan is now more focused on convincing the Pakistani public that it can stand up to the US.

Anjum Naveed/AP
Pakistani police officer secure a street close to the house, seen in background, where it is where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, May 3. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country's security forces may have sheltered Osama bin Laden before he was killed by American forces, and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint the world's most wanted man.

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The Pakistani government, facing harsh questioning from its own citizens and US officials after Osama bin Laden's death, is struggling to satisfy two groups with competing interests.

The US wants assurances that it has a trustworthy partner in the fight against terrorism, while the Pakistani public wants to know that its government will protect their sovereignty. The line that the Pakistani government must walk was evident this week as details unfolded into the raid that killed Mr. bin Laden at his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Initially, Pakistan defended its military and intelligence agency against accusations that they were aware of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

In a Washington Post Op-Ed, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said, "Some in the US press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact."

Mr. Zardari expressed "satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an Al Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day."

Indeed, some Pakistani security officials had first described it as a "joint operation."

By midweek, however, Pakistani officials had changed their tone, going from defensive to combative in an apparent bid to quell rising frustration at home just as a Monitor reporter found "pulsing" anti-Americanism in Abbottabad over the US operation.

“This is a shameful incident for us. Our army should have shot down the US choppers,” an Abbottabad resident told Agence France-Presse. The fact that the US operation ended with the capture of bin Laden did not seem to change their minds.

In a May 3 statement, the Foreign Ministry called the operation an "unauthorized unilateral action" and warned it "would not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US."

The same statement said the CIA "exploited" Pakistani intelligence. Two days later, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir warned that similar unilateral actions in the future would have "disastrous consequences," according to Al Jazeera – implying that Pakistan was willing and able to take action against the US.

Yet as Zardari wrote his op-ed, and as Mr. Bashir himself admitted, the operation that killed bin Laden may not have succeeded without Pakistan's years of groundwork. Officials have said that Pakistani intelligence provided "initial information" that the US used to locate the compound.

The US, too, acknowledged that it used information obtained by Pakistan. President Obama, in his address announcing bin Laden's death, said "it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding."

Since then, the US has been clearer: Pakistan did not participate in, or have prior knowledge of, the raid. "It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said May 3.

Pakistan's waffling – initially "satisfied" with the operation, but days later angry and accusatory – has highlighted Pakistan's conundrum. Amid rising anti-American sentiment over US actions such as drone strikes and covert CIA operations, the Pakistani government is increasingly hard-pressed to satisfy both its constituents and its generous benefactor.

“It is not always an easy relationship. You know that,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday during a press conference. “But on the other hand, it is a productive one for both of our countries, and we are going to continue to cooperate between our governments, our militaries, our law enforcement agencies, but most importantly, between the American and Pakistani people."

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