Monthly Archives: August 2011

Former CIA station chief: Pakistan had no knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts

Former station chief of the CIA in Islamabad, Robert Grenier, told Express News reporter Huma Imtiaz that the US needs to do more to understand the complex security situation in Pakistan and work with, not against, Islamabad to advance both nations’ mutual interests. Speaking about the discovery of Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan, Grenier said he believes no Pakistani officials had any knowledge of his whereabouts, and that they were as surprised as everyone else.

Once bitten, twice shy

Most Americans see the death of Osama bin Laden as an unambiguously positive event. The world’s most wanted terrorist, the man who orchestrated the deaths of thousands of innocent people, was brought to justice after a ten year manhunt. To many Pakistanis, however, the American operation evokes a complicated set of contradictory emotions. While there is certainly relief that a violent terrorist is no longer a threat, this relief is coupled with the embarrassment that he was found hiding in Abbottabad. Many in the Pakistani military consider the event humiliating. The fact that bin Laden was killed in a raid carried out without the cooperation or consent of Pakistani officials is seen as the right outcome, but the wrong process.

In his book, The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama notes the human desire for “intersubjective recognition, either of their own worth, or the worth of their gods, laws, customs, and ways of life” as a basic building block of political development. He goes on to explain that “the desire for recognition ensures that politics will never be reducible to simple economic self-interest.” Viewed through this lens, the May operation that killed Osama bin Laden takes on a meaning in Pakistan much different from the basic “law and order” narrative that informs American understanding of the event.

The midnight raid on Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was carried out without informing the Pakistani government. Following the operation, Admiral Mullen stated “we should not underestimate the humbling experience that this is, and in fact the internal soul-searching that’s going on inside the Pakistani military right now.”

Unfortunately, according to Deputy National Security Advisor Douglas E. Lute, the US did just that.

Responding to questions from the audience, Mr. Lute acknowledged that the administration failed to anticipate the depth of embarrassment suffered by Pakistan’s military by the revelation that Bin Laden had lived comfortably and with local support in a fortress-like home near a leading Pakistani military academy for more than five years, and that American commandos swooped into their country on a two-and-a-half hour mission undetected and unchallenged.

“We underestimated the humiliation factor,” he said. That reaction has prompted Pakistan’s military to take several steps since the raid to recalibrate its relationship with Washington and distance itself from the Pentagon, including expelling some 150 American Special Forces trainers for Pakistani paramilitary troops.

Najam Sethi, Senior Fellow at The New America Foundation, suggests in The Friday Times that the next time the US tries to go it alone, things might not turn out so well.

A single spark – power shortages, inflation, natural calamity, assassination, institutional gridlock or confrontation – could light a prairie fire of discontent. More probably, an outrageous unilateral interventionist act by the US – like the OBL Abbottabad raid or boots on ground in Waziristan – would provoke a media driven wave of revulsion and anger against the US and also, more pointedly, against the Zardari regime for its abject helplessness. The sentiment that would sweep the country would compel all the domestic players to scramble and exploit openings for their narrow party political or institutional interests rather than band together and build a national consensus that indirectly bails out the Zardari regime.

As Washington debates future aid and operations in Pakistan, American lawmakers should remember Fukuyama’s observation that “politics will never be reducible to simple economic self-interest.” The ‘dignity gap’ that we identified following the arrest of Raymond Davis remains an important determinate of how US-Pakistan relations will develop. Another perceived blow to Pakistan’s dignity of the magnitude of Raymond Davis or Abbottabad, however, would do more than damage US-Pakistan relations. As Najam Sethi warns, it could cut down Pakistan’s fragile democracy before it has a chance to firmly take root. If that happens, the US and Pakistan will both lose.

Helicopter Tales

Wreckage of the stealth helicopter left in Osama bin Laden's compound

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the the Center for a New American Security, asks, “Did Pakistan sell out America?“. What raises this question in Cronin’s mind is a report in the Financial Times over the weekend that alleges “Pakistan allowed Chinese military engineers to photograph and take samples from the top-secret stealth helicopter that US special forces left behind when they killed Osama bin Laden.” For its part, Pakistan’s military denies the Financial Times report, calling it “baseless and speculative.” American officials have not made public statements one way or the other, the issue being largely left to media speculation.

When the Financial Times story broke, it played into the suspicions and fears of those that believe Pakistan is an untrustworthy ally. After all, the US had told Pakistan that the helicopter technology was secret and that they should not share it with anyone. If Pakistan were a trustworthy ally, would they not have respected the American request? This one-sided perspective fails to take into account the possibility that Pakistan has its own security priorities that may not always align with American requests.

The operation inside Pakistani territory to eliminate Osama bin Laden was carried out unilaterally and without informing Pakistan ahead of time. This may very well have fueled impressions in Pakistan that it is the US who is untrustworthy. That doesn’t mean that the US should not have carried out the operation, it just means that a cost-benefit calculation was made and it was decided that the benefits of killing Osama bin Laden outweighed the cost of angering Pakistan. As American lawmakers debate additional conditions on military aid to Pakistan, Pakistani military leaders may determine that American aid comes with too high a cost in dignity when the Chinese offer military assistance with fewer strings attached. In either situation, decisions are made by leaders acting on what they believe are their own nation’s interests.

Cronin sees this latest dispute as reflective of a broader problem with the way the US attempts to engage Pakistan.

But rather than rush to condemn Pakistan on the basis of incomplete information, the Obama administration needs to rethink its broader approach to Pakistan.

The United States appears to be dashing quickly in opposite directions. Simultaneously, Washington is giving Pakistan $1.5 billion a year in development assistance and then reportedly withholding military aid unless Pakistan’s policy actions receive green lights on a secret scorecard. The former action treats Pakistan like a close ally in which we have a long-term investment; the latter condition presupposes Pakistani generals would cede strategic objectives for limited military hardware and support. The two are hard to reconcile.

Matthew Yglesias, a Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, expresses this rather succinctly. He observes that all this allegation suggests is that “Pakistan is an independent country with its own interests.”

Yglesias, by his own admission, is not a Pakistan expert, but this limitation appears to have allowed him to see the forest for the trees. Too often US-Pakistan security cooperation is framed by an underlying perception of Pakistan as a client state, not an independent nation. The US sees Pakistan as an ally, but it will not develop its national security strategy based on Pakistani security interests. Likewise, Pakistan sees the US as an ally, but maintains national security priorities of its own. Neither is this unique to the US and Pakistan – it’s the way independent nations work.

Whether or not Pakistan did grant China access to the wreckage, the outcome should be for US leaders to re-evaluate whether American expectations of Pakistan are realistic, and whether US security policy is based in American wishful thinking, or frank and transparent discussions with Pakistan to determine where the two countries’ priorities intersect. The latter can build bilateral confidence and strengthen cooperation; the former will only end in failure.

On Pakistan’s Independence Day

August 14th is Pakistan’s Independence Day. In recognition of this holiday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the following statement.

Secretary Hillary ClintonOn behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Pakistan as you celebrate 64 years of independence this August 14.

Since your independence in 1947, you have worked to build a strong nation that honors your distinct culture and history. Day in and day out you demonstrate your unique spirit and resilience as you strengthen security, economic stability, and democratic principles that will benefit all Pakistanis.

As Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said, “If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people.” On this joyous occasion, the United States joins you in celebrating the anniversary of Pakistan’s birth, and we renew our commitment to working with the people of Pakistan to promote greater peace and prosperity for both our people.

Whether you celebrate this special day with family, friends, or loved ones, know that the United States stands with you as a committed partner and friend.

In fact, this is not the first time a US Secretary of State has congratulated Pakistan on the occasion of its independence. On August 11, 1947, Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah spoke before the nation’s first Constituent Assembly where he laid out his vision for Pakistan’s future, one defined by democracy and justice for all citizens.

Muhammad Ali JinnahYou are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State…Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.


As he concluded his remarks, he read to the gathered Pakistani leaders a statement he had received from US Secretary of State George Marshall.

I have the honour to communicate to you, in Your Excellency’s capacity as President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, the following message which I have just received from the Secretary of State of the United States:

On the occasion of of the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly for Pakistan, I extend to you and to the members of the Assembly, the best wishes of the Government and the people of the United States for the successful conclusion of the great work you are about to undertake.

On this 64th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, we in America celebrate 64 years of friendship with Pakistan, and look forward to a future of continued friendship between our two great nations.

Ambassador Munter Engages Pakistani People, Not Just Leaders

When Ambassador Cameron Munter arrived in Pakistan last fall, he landed in a country suffering the effects of the worst flooding in known history. The floods that submerged approximately twenty percent of Pakistan affected 20 million people, destroying homes, farms, businesses, and basic infrastructure across the country. Where other diplomats might have called for increased aid and issued sympathetic statements from the security of their Embassies, Amb. Munter took off his suit and tie and began to deliver help directly. It was a sign of a new approach to diplomacy, and one that offers a way to repair strained US-Pakistan relations.

Amb. Cameron Munter carrying relief supplies

Amb. Munter has continued to directly engage with the Pakistani people in both good times and bad. After the May operation that killed Osama bin Laden, Amb. Munter appeared on Geo, the nation’s most popular TV channel, to answer questions about what happened, and what it means for US-Pakistan relations.

Amb. Munter’s public outreach did not stop there. A few days later he went to the University of Sindh, Jamshoro Campus where he took questions from students. He did not dodge hard questions, and he gave open and honest answers about the American perspective.

But the American Ambassador has not allowed security issues to overshadow the important work of building closer ties between the American and Pakistani people. Earlier this month, Amb. Munter announced that the US will donate $100,000 to help SOS Village in Quetta build homes to host orphans in the region. Once again, the American diplomat shed his coat and tie, this time to enjoy a game of cricket with local kids.

Amb. Cameron Munter playing cricket with kids in Quetta

Too often, diplomacy occurs between the highest levels of government while the people are left out of the discussion. This creates a breeding ground for confusion, suspicion and doubt. By moving out of his Embassy office and engaging with the Pakistani people directly, Amb. Munter is showing us the way to repair strained US-Pakistan relations – taking the time to get to know each other.

President Zardari to extend Political Parties Act to FATA

Earlier this year we wrote that the citizens of FATA are as Pakistani as the citizens of Lahore, Karachi, and Faisalabad and they deserve the same political and legal rights as well. To that end, we supported a recommendation by Ziad Haider to extend the Political Parties Act to FATA, allowing mainstream political parties to organize in the region. According to Pakistani English-language daily, Dawn, this recommendation may soon be enacted.

A member of Pakistan’s parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that President Asif Zardari is prepared to issue a presidential regulation as soon as this week.

“All is set for issuing a new presidential regulation, in the current week, extending the legislation that allows political mainstreaming of the tribal areas besides introducing some reforms in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR),” sources said.

Extending the Political Parties Act to all regions of Pakistan is an important step in expanding democracy to all Pakistanis and providing an alternative to the influence of extremist groups.

US needs to take a new approach to aid

USAID Pakistan

As Congress continues looking for ways to trim spending, officials in the Obama administration are worried that some lawmakers may be considering shrinking civilian aid to Pakistan. They are right to worry as this would be a mistake.

Experts on both Pakistan and international aid and development agree – attempts to ‘buy’ Pakistan’s cooperation will always fail. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, using civilian aid as a ‘carrot’ by tying disbursement to unrelated security conditions is deeply humiliating. The underlying change mechanism requires that a sovereign government be, in essence, for sale. Even if one can find such a pliable partner, their shelf life will invariably be limited.

Another reason that aid is not a realistic tool of leverage is that the amounts in question are simply not large enough to buy anyone off. As we noted last month,

The Kerry-Lugar-Burman bill (KLB) provides for $1.5 billion in economic aid annually for five years. While this aid is valuable, it represents about 0.3 percent of the nation’s GDP. Moreover, in the first year of KLB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only $179.5 million was actually disbursed. Even if it were possible to buy Pakistan’s cooperation, this amount of foreign aid is simply insufficient to do so.

But the most convincing reason is found in empirical evidence – what are the outcomes we have seen from US aid? Since the US pledged billions of dollars in civilian aid to Pakistan – all tied to security-related conditions – military-to-military relations between the US and Pakistan have actually soured. If aid is tool of leverage, it’s a very bad one. But that doesn’t mean that civilian aid has not had a positive impact.

Though delivery mechanisms still need improvement, as the Washington Post reporter found, using aid as an investment in improving the lives of ordinary Pakistanis does pay long term dividends.

Last summer, USAID used $500 million to help Pakistan cope with ruinous floods. More than $60 million went toward seed and fertilizer for farmers whose crops were flooded out in villages such as Jangi, in the northwest, where anger pulsates over CIA drone strikes in the nearby tribal belt.

On a recent day, farmers in the village said they had expected to lose this spring’s wheat harvest. Instead, there was a bumper crop, and they attributed the success to U.S.-funded seeds and canals.

“Earlier, it was our perception that the United States was only for destruction,” said Noor Nabi, a community leader in the village. “But in that critical time, it helped us.”

Civilian aid can result in outcomes that benefit both Pakistani and American interests. In order for this to happen, though, the US needs to reconsider the goals of civilian aid. The goal should not be to ‘buy’ Pakistani cooperation, but to strengthen civilian institutions and civil society so that America’s natural allies in Pakistan – the Pakistani people – have the ability to determine Pakistan’s future.

Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that “democracy, however messy, is the only alternative to the military-jihadist complex that has stunted Pakistan’s economy and tarnished its international reputation.”

A sensible Pakistan policy, as outlined by [Bruce Riedel], would make strengthening its fragile civilian institutions the underlying goal of all U.S. engagement. The U.S. needs strong intelligence and military-to-military ties with its Pakistani counterparts, but unlike in the past these should not come at the cost of stunting Pakistani democracy.

Using aid as a means of leverage in military-to-military relations weakens US influence and delays democratic reforms that will move Pakistan away from destructive, anti-democratic policies rooted in a Cold War mindset. By continuing to use aid as a ‘carrot’ to lure Pakistan into taking actions that provide short-term security gains, the US is actually setting back its own long-term objectives for the region. It’s time for a new approach.

Are Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Secure?

Pakistan Nuclear Weapons

Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations, views rather optimistically the independent commission of inquiry tasked with investigating how Osama bin Laden was able to live undetected in pakistan, noting that the President of the Commission, Justice Iqbal, recently responded to the dismissive remarks of one retired general by noting that “no one has been exonerated so far.”

But, Zenko notes, the real issue is less about bin Laden qua bin Laden than whether his ability to live outside a garrison town undetected points to weaknesses in Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear weapons.

The more pressing issue for the Commission to examine is the effectiveness of the military and intelligence agencies responsible for securing Pakistan’s estimated 90 to 110 nuclear warheads. At the July 25 meeting, Director General of Military Operations, Maj. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad, stated that “the strategic (nuclear) sites were very well protected and were under air and ground protection of the Pakistan Armed Forces, and were hence not comparable to the Abbottabad incident.” This finding is consistent with the opinions of U.S. officials, who, when asked in congressional hearings, repeatedly emphasize that Pakistan has full control of its bombs—in large part because they are so essential to the country’s security. In May 2009, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen even claimed that Pakistan “actually put in an increased level of security measures in the last three or four years.”

One hopes this characterization is accurate. In a distressing anecdote that went unnoticed in the mainstream press, Senator Ben Nelson revealed in a May Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing that, “In late 2001, I asked General Musharraf how confident he was that they had the security of all their nuclear weapons under control. And after a little bit of thought, he said 95 percent.” Given that Pakistan is growing its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country in the world, we should hope that that five percent insecurity does not exist today.

While the US will never have perfect knowledge about another nation’s nuclear weapons program, there is reason to believe that Pakistan is serious about keeping its nuclear weapons secure, and is taking necessary measures to ensure that its nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of terrorists.

Last month, the Congressional Research Service released a new Report for Congress, Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues, that examined this very issue. After extensive research, the reports authors concluded that Pakistan has “taken a number of steps to increase international confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal,” since Gen. Musharraf’s remarks in 2001.

In addition to overhauling nuclear command and control structures since September 11, 2001, Islamabad has implemented new personnel security programs. Moreover, Pakistani and some U.S. officials argue that, since the 2004 revelations about a procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official A.Q. Khan, Islamabad has taken a number of steps to improve its nuclear security and to prevent further proliferation of nuclear- related technologies and materials. A number of important initiatives, such as strengthened export control laws, improved personnel security, and international nuclear security cooperation programs have improved Pakistan’s security situation in recent years.

As with any nation, however, the answer is somewhat fluid and dependent on the underlying stability of the government that is tasked with ensuring security. This creates certain issues for the US to consider as it weighs its own policy options towards Pakistan. It should come as no surprise that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has become more secure as the country has become more democratic. This should be a lesson for American policy makers – by strengthening civilian democratic institutions in Pakistan, the US helps secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, thereby making everyone more secure.