Pakistan: Was the U.S. betrayed by its ‘ally’?

Since 9/11 the U.S. has sent nearly $20 billion in aid to Pakistan, on the understanding that it would help us fight terrorism in the region.

Osama bin Laden wasn’t the only casualty of this month’s raid in Abbottabad, said Kapil Komireddi in the Chicago Tribune. With him died “the myth of Pakistan as an ally in the war against terrorism.” The fact that bin Laden was able to live comfortably for years within walking distance of the Pakistan Military Academy confirms what U.S. officials have suspected since 9/11: that Islamabad has been quietly “nurturing and offering sanctuary to terrorists” while pretending to be a strategic partner of the U.S. “No more,” said Investor’s Business Daily in an editorial. Since 9/11 we’ve sent nearly $20 billion in aid to this “so-called war ally,” on the understanding that it would help us fight terrorism in the region. Now we know that “Islamabad looked the other way” as bin Laden set up a luxury villa in Abbottabad. Pakistan’s political and military leaders actually have the gall to complain that we violated their sovereignty in killing the world’s most wanted terrorist. “Freezing aid seems a no-brainer.”

“Alliances aren’t the same as friendships,” said the Los Angeles Times. We’ve known since 9/11 about the “double game” being played by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. That’s why President Obama chose not to brief Pakistan ahead of time about the bin Laden raid, and why he even authorized the SEALs to shoot their way out of Abbottabad if Pakistani forces confronted them. But “reducing or ending foreign aid to punish the country for its duplicity” would be a step too far—especially as we’re still fighting a war in neighboring Afghanistan. “Would cutting aid change Pakistani behavior for the better?” said Reza Jan in Obviously not. President Asif Ali Zardari is not a popular figure in Pakistan, and Islamic extremists would love to seize power. Pakistan, let us remember, has 100 nuclear weapons and a large, restless, and mainly poor population. We must play the country’s double game, because the alternative is far worse.

The alternative is “making an enemy” of Pakistan, said the San Francisco Chronicle, and that could destabilize the whole region and hurt our efforts to drive terrorists out of neighboring Afghanistan. But we may have little choice if the trove of intelligence seized from bin Laden’s compound shows he was being sheltered by the ISI and the military. At the very least, said The Wall Street Journal, such a discovery would entitle us to issue Pakistan “a Bushian ultimatum: Stop the double game and join us, or we’ll do the job ourselves and with other friends, such as the Indians if need be.” That could bring some badly needed clarity to this dysfunctional relationship. “Pakistan has to decide whose side it is on.”

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Let’s not jump to conclusions, said The Christian Science Monitor. It’s possible that “no one in authority” knew about bin Laden’s hiding place. The U.S. should use that possibility to impress upon the Pakistani government and public “just how much Pakistan needs America’s help to fend off terrorists.” What Pakistan really needs, said Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker, is a shift of power from the ruling elite and the military to the “civilian middle class.” So let’s deliver our future aid in the form of trade deals and tax breaks for Pakistani businesses. That would do “far more to enhance Pakistan’s stability, and to ensure its friendship, than the billions of dollars that America now pays like a ransom.”

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