Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan
Pakistani seminary students gather during an anti-US rally in Quetta on May 4, 2011, against the killing of Osama bin Laden. (Getty images)
May 4th, 2011
11:51 AM ET

Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan

Editor's Note: Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and is the author of Asian Juggernaut and the forthcoming Water: Asia’s New Battlefield. For more from Chellaney, visit Project-Syndicate's website, or check it out on Facebook and Twitter.

By Brahma Chellaney

NEW DELHI – The killing of Osama bin Laden by United States special forces in a helicopter assault on a sprawling luxury mansion near Islamabad recalls the capture of other al Qaeda leaders in Pakistani cities. Once again, we see that the real terrorist sanctuaries are located not along Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan and India, but in the Pakistani heartland.

This, in turn, underlines another fundamental reality – that the fight against international terrorism cannot be won without demilitarizing and de-radicalizing Pakistan, including by rebalancing civil-military relations there and reining in the country’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Other terrorist leaders captured in Pakistan since 9/11 – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s third in command; Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief; Yasser Jazeeri; Abu Faraj Farj; and Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the coordinators of 9/11 – were also found living in cities across Pakistan. If there is any surprise about bin Laden’s hideout, it is its location in a military town, Abbottabad, in the shadow of an army academy.

This only underscores the major protection that bin Laden must have received from elements of the Pakistani security establishment to help him elude the U.S. dragnet for nearly a decade. The breakthrough in hunting him down came only after the U.S., even at the risk of rupturing its longstanding ties with the Pakistani army and ISI, deployed a number of CIA operatives, Special Operations forces, and contractors deep inside Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistani military.

In recent years, with its senior operations men captured or killed and bin Laden holed up in Pakistan, the badly splintered al Qaeda had already lost the ability to mount a major international attack or openly challenge U.S. interests. With bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda is likely to wither away as an organization.

Yet its dangerous ideology is expected to live on and motivate state-sponsored non-state actors. It will be mainly such elements that will have the capacity to launch major transnational terrorist attacks, like the 2008 Mumbai strikes. Even in Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s main foe is not al Qaeda but a resurgent Taliban, which enjoys safe haven in Pakistan.

That is why the spotlight is likely to turn on the terrorist nexus within Pakistan and the role of, and relationship between, state and non-state actors there. Significantly, as the CIA closed in on bin Laden, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, for the first time publicly linked the Pakistani military with some of the militants attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s homegrown Islamist militias continue to operate openly, and the Pakistani army and intelligence remain loath to sever their cozy ties with extremist and terrorist elements.

For the U.S., Pakistan poses a particularly difficult challenge. Despite providing $20 billion to Pakistan in counterterrorism aid since 9/11, the U.S. has received grudging assistance, at best, and duplicitous cooperation, at worst. Today, amid a rising tide of anti-Americanism, U.S. policy on Pakistan is rapidly unraveling. Yet Pakistan, with one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, has become more dependent than ever on U.S. aid.

Even as Americans exult over bin Laden’s killing, the U.S. government must recognize that its failed policy on Pakistan has inadvertently made that country the world’s main terrorist sanctuary. Rather than helping to build robust civilian institutions there, the U.S. has pampered the jihadist-penetrated Pakistani military establishment, best illustrated by the fresh $3 billion military aid package earmarked for the next fiscal year.

After dictator Pervez Musharraf was driven out of office, the new Pakistani civilian government ordered the ISI to report to the interior ministry, but received no support from the U.S. for this effort to assert civilian control, allowing the army to quickly frustrate the effort.

After coming to office, U.S. President Barack Obama implemented a military surge in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, however, he implemented an aid surge, turning it into the largest recipient of U.S. aid, even though the Afghan Taliban leadership and al Qaeda remnants remained ensconced in the country. This only deepened U.S. involvement in the wrong war and emboldened Pakistan to fatten the Afghan Taliban, even as sustained U.S. attacks continued to severely weaken al Qaeda.

Make no mistake: the scourge of Pakistani terrorism emanates more from the country’s Scotch whisky-sipping generals than from the bead-rubbing mullahs. It is the self-styled secular generals who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jalaluddin Haqqani militia, and other groups. Yet, by passing the blame for their ongoing terrorist-proxy policy to their mullah puppets, the generals have made the U.S. believe that the key is to contain the religious fringe, not the puppeteers.

In fact, Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon occurred not under civilian rule, but under two military dictators – one who nurtured and let loose jihadist forces, and another who took his country to the very edge of the precipice.

Without reform of the Pakistani army and ISI, there can be no end to transnational terrorism – and no genuine nation-building in Pakistan. How can Pakistan be a “normal” state if its army and intelligence agency remain outside civilian oversight and decisive power remains with military generals?

With bin Laden dead, the only way that al Qaeda can reconstitute itself is if the Pakistani military succeeds in reinstalling a proxy regime in Afghanistan. Until the Pakistani military’s vise-like grip on power is broken and the ISI cut down to size, Pakistan is likely to remain Ground Zero for the terrorist threat that the world confronts.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Brahma Chellaney. Visit Project-Syndicate for more.

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Topics: Osama bin Laden • Pakistan

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Adam's Apple

    Well what else would you expect from someone based in India?

    May 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • vinay

      Yes! you expect common sense from someone based in India and that is what this article is about.

      India has been facing the terrorist strikes since long and was always providing evidence of ground zero or terror being pakistan and ISI.

      The only long term solution I see is US forming a strong alliance with India and supporting it to fight the terrorism so that terrorists are busy fighting with India and India fighting its problems than US going no where feeding the hand that bites. India is a strong enough country and a democracy to tackle terrorism but lacks the world support to carry out any bold actions against terrorists.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      I don't doubt that elements within the intellgence and military forces in Pakistan are corrupt and they take every opportunity to enrich themselves. I feel only sorry for the populace. It's a beautiful country, verdant and mountainous like Austria and Switzerland. The Urdu language must be a flowery one, which explains, why they have a few excellent story-tellers.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Raymond davis

      This is the Global Public Square the last time I checked. Why not from India or Istanbul? How does it matter. The whole world is fed up with the terrorist machine manufactured in Pakistan.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  2. RAJ

    Great article with practical suggestion.

    May 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  3. Onesmallvoice

    Until the right-wing thugs in Washington can get the Pakistani people to stop chanting "Allah Akbar" and start chanting "Allah Akbar,but Capitalism Akbar-er" they will not be happy. These creeps want to brainwash the Pakistanis into denouncing Islam and to embrace Capitalism and make themselves dominant there,too.

    May 4, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  4. Sudhir Chauhan

    Pakistan is going deep into a complicated situation & has got trapped in the web it created specially for the India. Since coming to existance, it pursued everything that could let India down & in the process created monsters on its own soil, taking them as means to brow-beat India.... but now they have slipped its hands... & take it sure its on the verge of disintegration... Indian planners must work & work must ... to deal with such scenario.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  5. Raymond davis

    Awesome article. Hope sense prevails in Washington D.C and they cut the money lifeline to Pakistan until they can transform their ways.

    May 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  6. james2

    The White House has two options here:
    1. Use this incident to bludgeon Pakistan over the head politically and make them more compliant in dealing with ALL terrorists. Pakistan needs to respect the fact that their aid comes from the taxes of American citizens, and they deserve an honest answer from the Pakistani military.
    2. Cut off aid to Pakistan and let them raise their taxes/cut government spending or turn to China. I don't think the Chinese will be all too happy to cover for hot potato Pakistan after this. China already has one "annoying little brother" (North Korea) and covering for Pakistan would certainly make even its own indifferent, nationally-soveriegn government look foolish. China is also facing a serious public image problem with other countries in Asia, and providing money to a terrorist hub would likely shake that confidence even further.

    In any case, the United States needs to rework its partnership with Pakistan so it is not held back by so much Pakistani red tape.

    May 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  7. james2

    The US wants to cut its military budget right? Start with Pakistan...

    May 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  8. moshesharon

    So here’s the deal: 1) The White House announced that a Navy Seal team raided Osama’s residence in Pakistan; 2) They allegedly conducted a DNA analysis and confirmed that the man shot in the head is Osama but never showed us the actual result or explained where they got the prior control sample to set up the profile for a match test; 3) They announced that they took the body to an aircraft carrier and dumped it overboard after a Muslim funeral; 4) They said they have pictures but are refusing to show them to the general public. I’m certain that if the Seals killed a decoy and Osama is still alive somewhere else, he won’t wait long before appearing on AL Jazeera Television to thumb his nose at the world (G-d forbid). So, unless Osama made a deal with Obama to trade information for witness protection, in the absence of any visible shred of corroborating forensic evidence, time will tell whether the dead chicken of the sea is really Osama Bin Laden or has Obama been Lying? More at http://moshesharon.wordpress.com

    May 4, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  9. james2

    What does Pakistan have to gain by smearing the US with its propaganda? How will other countries respond and who's side will they take? America's or Pakistan's?

    May 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  10. kukkumol

    wake up all the indian politicians thats why the AMERICANS rule the world . never mix politics into the defence matters so mr.chidambram wake up and dont say any thing abt politics into the sensitive matter abt the internal security. we all are fed of this kind of security in our country , a common man has lost faith in indian democracy, whenever some thing gone wrong all the political parties blaming each other . The security should be handled by different body as in USA

    May 5, 2011 at 11:47 am | Reply
  11. Babar

    Its important to put the facts right. Yasser Jazeeri; Abu Faraj Farj; and Ramzi Binalshibh were captured by Pakistani army.

    May 7, 2011 at 5:19 am | Reply
  12. joe

    Why is pakistan spending nearly 80 % of its resources on defence and debt-servicing. What is left for productive development expenses. The reason is their obsessive hatred for india. They want some more part of kashmir from india. Have they told the world that even the pakistani occupied kashmir has a major portion of kashmir which pakistan has gifted to china. So china treats pakistan as an all-weather friend.
    As for the pak nukes, they are very unsafe and will be used by the talebanis when they take over pakistan-soon?- and use it against india, and the usa/eu. Is it not better for the world to pre-empt this possibility?

    May 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply

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