US and UK leaders are calling on their respective governments to expand engagement with Pakistan following the successful US mission against Osama bin Laden earlier this week. While media reports continue to create confusion about Pakistan’s role in the operation, top leaders are warning against rash decisions and calling for greater support for pro-democracy forces.
The Wall Street Journal reports today that Pakistan has been a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism, and that statements by Pakistani officials expressing concern about the US operation are intended to address domestic public opinion that is largely suspicious of American motives.
“Pakistan is a partner—a key partner—in the fight against al Qaeda and terrorism,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “They have been extremely helpful, and we look forward to cooperating in the future”
In private, a number of senior U.S. officials urged caution in casting blame on Pakistan’s government or President Asif Ali Zardari. “If multiple people at any level [knew], I think we would have found out by virtue of the amount of information gathering we do” in Pakistan, a senior U.S. official said. He suggested officials are going back to review their intelligence and see if they missed any signs.
In a joint statement Tuesday afternoon, U.S. and Pakistani militaries said the raid “underscores the importance of cooperation” in antiterrorism efforts. “Both sides affirmed their mutual commitment to their strong defense relations,” the statement said.
Pakistan’s rebuke of the raid appeared aimed at quieting mounting discontent among middle-class Pakistanis, many of whom are virulently anti-American, for what they have seen as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereign space.
Speaker Boehner expressed to reporters the importance of expanding cooperation with Pakistan.
Brushing aside much of the criticism heaped on the Pakistanis after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Boehner said Pakistan was a critical ally.
“We both benefit from having a strong bilateral relationship. This is not a time to back away from Pakistan,” Boehner said. “We need more engagement, not less.”
Speaker Boehner’s sentiments were also expressed by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday.
“Pakistan’s political leadership…are staunch in the fight against extremism and terror, and they’ve done huge amounts in their own country to try and combat it.
“Pakistan has suffered more at the hands of terrorism than virtually any other country on Earth.
“It’s in our interests to back those democratic forces within Pakistan, and the stronger that democracy can be the more the whole country will work together to deal with terrorism.”
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir revealed that Pakistan alerted the US to suspicions about the compound in Abbotabad in 2009. Osama bin Laden is believed to have been hiding there for several years before then, but that was under military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf. It was not until the present government came to power that the compound was brought to the attention of the US.
As American and British leaders have clearly stated, now is the time to increase engagement with Pakistan, not turn it away. By strengthening democratic forces within Pakistan’s government and security services, the US can help provide the political space Pakistan needs to disentangle itself from the web of militant sympathizers that spread under the supervision of past dictators, protecting American and Pakistan’s shared interest in a safe, secure, and terror free world.