Following the May 2nd raid in Pakistan by U.S. commandos that resulted in Osama bin Laden’s death, U.S. policymakers have called into question U.S. foreign aid to Pakistan. Although many lawmakers are asking what role Pakistan played in hiding bin Laden, few doubt that the military and civilian aid will be ended. While the Obama administration investigates what Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts for the past five years, lawmakers like House Speaker John Boehner and others have insisted that U.S. and Pakistan ties must be maintained if the U.S. is to engage in the war on terror successfully.
“But at the end of the day, if you want to create a failed state in Pakistan, one of the best things to do is sever relationships. It is not in our national security interest to let this one event destroy what is a difficult partnership but a partnership nonetheless,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested.
While Republicans and Democrats have raised legitimate questions about what Pakistan knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts, several lawmakers contend that cutting off aid to Pakistan would do more harm than good. However, as Speaker Boehner made clear, “I think we need more engagement, not less.” The speaker continued, “Al-Qaida and other extremist groups have made Pakistan a target…Having a robust partnership with Pakistan is critical to breaking the back of al-Qaida and the rest of them.”
At this point, any speculation about what Pakistan knew is pure speculation. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a recent Pentagon news conference, “My supposition is, somebody knew.” Sec. Gates continued, “We don’t know whether it was retired people, whether it was low level — pure supposition on our part…It’s hard to go to them with an accusation when we have no proof that anybody knew.”
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan stated that the Obama administration is looking into what Pakistan knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts and what support system existed that enabled his concealment. During a National Public Radio interview, Brennan said the administration is “not accusing anybody at this point but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this. And I know that the Pakistani officials, and I’m sure Ambassador Haqqani, as well, would like to know whether or not somebody within the Pakistani government was knowledgeable about bin Laden’s presence on that compound.”
Many policymakers contend that cutting off aid would be premature and that, in the end, it would hamper U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has funneled nearly $20 billion in aid to Islamabad. One third has been in the form of humanitarian relief and development aid and the rest has been military aid to assist the Pakistan government battle insurgents on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Pakistan is also a key transit point for U.S. military goods into Afghanistan. Cutting off aid would undoubtedly make it difficult for this to continue. Furthermore, military and civilian aid insures that Pakistan remains a viable state and that its nuclear arsenal is kept safe. If Pakistan were to fail as a result of aid being cut off, this would have wider ramifications for the region. “America has cut off aid before, with disastrous results,” argues Hassan Abbas of the South Asia Institute.
However, bin Laden’s death does come at a time of increased strains in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The Obama administration has increased drone missile attacks along the Pakistan-Afghan border that have resulted in collateral damage and the killing of civilians. The case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot two Pakistanis, has exacerbated tensions further. The case of Davis was resolved when blood money was paid to his victims’ families.
Following the bin Laden raid, Pakistan’s Parliament demanded a full stop to all drone attacks. However, not only has the U.S. not stopped the use of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, but it has increased their use in an effort to exploit any uncertainties that might exist among militant groups as a result of bin Laden’s death.
The latest rounds of drone missile attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas occurred at the same time that Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), appeared before Pakistan’s Parliament and denounced the Osama bin Laden raid and said to Pakistani lawmakers, “And now they have conducted a sting operation on us.” Soon after Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s appearance before Pakistan’s Parliament, lawmakers passed a resolution that in essence claimed that further drone attacks constitute a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty similar to the raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. Further, the resolution warned that if the attacks continue the supply line of American military goods into Afghanistan would be cut off. It is unclear at this point if Pakistan is prepared to move forward with their threats. The annual $1.3 billion in aid helps keep the Pakistan economy afloat and enriches the pockets of the country’s many bureaucrats.
Amid heightened tensions between Pakistan and the United States, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) arrived in Islamabad for talks with the country’s leadership. Sen. Kerry said that he and Pakistani officials discussed a number of issues that have strained the relationship. Among them, alleged Pakistan support of Lashkar-i-Taiba and other militants who have conducted cross border attacks into Afghanistan as well as into India. Sen. Kerry contends that continued downward Pakistani-U.S. relations are “a very dangerous road for everybody — dangerous for Pakistan, dangerous for our interests, dangerous for the people of this country and for the region.” Still, before Sen. Kerry left for his visit to the region, he conveyed that for aid to continue, “In the Congress, this is a make-or-break moment.” Further, Kerry would convey to Pakistan that a more robust effort must be undertaken to fight terrorist groups within its borders. According to Kerry, there needs to exist, “a real demonstration of commitment.”
However, the Obama administration has stressed that the Pakistani-U.S. relationship is crucial to the U.S. lead war on terror and that lawmakers should be cautious before jumping to any conclusions. “We don’t know who if anybody in the government was aware that bin Laden or a high-value target was living in the compound. It’s logical to assume he had a supporting network. What constituted that network remains to be seen…It’s a big country and a big government and we have to be very focused and careful about how we do this because it is an important relationship,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
In a common refrain offered by lawmakers suspicious of Pakistan’s involvement, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) suggested, “I don’t know whether it would be effective or counterproductive, we’ll have to look at that.” Questions about Pakistan’s role in hiding Osama bin Laden are legitimate and need to be addressed by both top officials in the Obama administration and officials within Pakistan’s government.
While it appears that high-ranking Pakistani officials undoubtedly were not aware of bin Laden’s compound, some did know within the government. To mend fences with the U.S. and assure that U.S. aid continues to flow into Pakistan’s coffers the Zardari administration should pursue prosecuting those involved in aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden. Despite budget woes here in the U.S., aid to Pakistan constitutes such a minute portion of the total Federal budget that to cut off aid on these grounds is considered by some to be superficial. Further, this aid insures that Pakistan remains committed to helping the U.S. in the war on terror.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, cautioned about cutting off Pakistani aid before all the facts are known, “This is one of those love-hate relationships with Pakistan…We’ve got to be careful. We still need them, I think, and they need us…Frustrating? Absolutely. Are they gonna be the best partners we’ve ever had? No. Do we have to have them? I think we do.”
Further, Rep. Rogers argues, in the context of the global war on terror, Pakistan has been crucial in assisting the United States on several fronts. “Over the last 10 years, [there are] 600 people they’ve assisted us in arresting in the settled areas of Pakistan. And they’ve sent troops, army troops, into the tribal areas at our behest, and they’ve taken thousands and thousands of casualties,” Rogers told Politico.