The death of Osama bin Laden during a US special forces operation on Sunday night brought a sense of closure to many people the word over. Though all agree that the struggle against bin Laden’s brand of violent extremism will continue after his death, grassroots movements across the Arab world have demonstrated that it is through peaceful democratic organizing and not terrorist violence that dictators will be unseated and justice spread. The US should support pro-democracy movements across the world, especially in Pakistan where a fragile democratic government is under imminent threat from extremist militants.
Details of the operation that eliminated bin Laden are trickling out slowly, and there seems to be much confusion about Pakistan’s role in tracking and killing the al Qaeda leader. Recent statements from Pakistan’s government say that they had no role in the operation, but this claim strikes many analysts as unlikely.
It is even less likely that, as U.S. counterterrorism czar John Brennan claimed in a press conference today, Pakistani authorities did not know about the military operation that killed bin Laden until it was over. Abbottabad’s Bilal Town neighborhood where bin Laden lived and died was virtually around the corner from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul — Pakistan’s West Point, where future General Kayanis and General Pashas are learning to be officers. It doesn’t take 40 minutes to start to scramble planes, or get troops to Abbottabad, and there is no getting into the town by land or air without the expressed consent of Pakistan’s security establishment. This may not have been an official joint operation, but it was almost certainly a collective effort.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that much of the contradictory information coming out of Pakistan may be intended to quell public concerns in a country where a sensationalist media has stoked deep suspicions of American operations, and the Raymond Davis fiasco is still fresh in the public memory, a position reiterated by Karen Brulliart and Debbi Wilgoren in today’s Washington Post.
In comments that seemed directed toward the Pakistani public, much of which disapproves of any type of cooperation with the United States, Pakistan “categorically” denied local media reports that it was given notice about the raid and its air bases had been used.
While public opinion in Pakistan may be suspicious of US motives, Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has been a staunch defender of democracy. Echoing the sentiments of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, President Zardari wrote in the Washington Post today that democracy is the best weapon against terrorism.
My government endorses the words of President Obama and appreciates the credit he gave us Sunday night for the successful operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa. We also applaud and endorse the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we must “press forward, bolstering our partnerships, strengthening our networks, investing in a positive vision of peace and progress, and relentlessly pursuing the murderers who target innocent people.” We have not yet won this war, but we now clearly can see the beginning of the end, and the kind of South and Central Asia that lies in our future.
A freely elected democratic government, with the support and mandate of the people, working with democracies all over the world, is determined to build a viable, economic prosperous Pakistan that is a model to the entire Islamic world on what can be accomplished in giving hope to our people and opportunity to our children. We can become everything that al-Qaeda and the Taliban most fear — a vision of a modern Islamic future. Our people, our government, our military, our intelligence agencies are very much united. Some abroad insist that this is not the case, but they are wrong. Pakistanis are united.
Perhaps it is due to the sincerity of President Zardari’s convictions that President Obama spoke of US-Pakistan cooperation as an essential component in the fight against terrorism during his historic address to the nation on Sunday night.
But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
That’s also why suggestions that Congress may cut aid to Pakistan are self-defeating. Indiscriminate and unaccountable aid such as was practiced during the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations can lead to unintended consequences. But so can severing ties, such as occurred under President George H.W. Bush. Cutting assistance to Pakistan would jeopardize existing intelligence and security collaboration when we should be working to strengthen pro-democracy leaders and institutions in Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden was not discovered overnight. It took years of intelligence sharing and coordination between the US and Pakistan, and White House officials made clear that Pakistan’s help was integral to the success of the mission. What has gone too long unsaid, however, is that it took the election of a democratic government to reach the level of cooperation necessary to discover and eliminate the world’s most notorious terrorist. But the struggle to define Pakistan’s future continues. Militant leader Hafiz Saeed has publicly prayed for Osama bin Laden, while the Pakistani Taliban has declared war on the Pakistani state. This is a defining moment for Pakistan that underscores the vital importance of supporting Pakistan’s democratic movement.