Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pakistan: get over it

Pakistan's president yesterday loudly condemned any notion of incompetence or "complicity" with Al Queda and expressed indignation at the violation of his country's sovereignty, particularly over the fact that Pakistan was not consulted prior to the raid.

I understand that of course he has to say that to pacify his domestic audience. It is, after all, them who he serves.

But that doesn't make it total nonsense.

I should start with a few bits of defense for Pakistan. First of all, I believe that the government is in fact our ally. Not a good ally or a reliable ally, and one with decidedly different priorities and interests from us. But Pakistan has also lost many of its citizens to Islamic extremists, and the rational ones in the government realize that the monster they helped to create is dangerous to them. (Hmmm...that wasn't much of a defense, was it?)

Secondly, nobody has yet produced any evidence that the Pakistani military or ISI knew about or protected Bin Laden. Again, I suppose that wasn't a strong defense, but it needs to be said.

But enough of defending Pakistan. The president of Pakistan deserves all of the suspicion and ridicule he is experiencing.

First of all, most of the criticism is that Pakistan should have known that Bin Laden was in their midst. It is perfectly reasonable to ask why the US, halfway around the world, was able to figure out Bin Laden's presence, when the elite of the Pakistani military trained only half a mile away in ignorance. It begs the question of whether the Pakistanis were merely incompetent or actually in cahoots. Not a comfortable question for sure, but I'm afraid it's a perfectly reasonable one to ask. It is, I suppose, possible, that Bin Laden was just that good and his network of support was just that secure (i.e., a third option in the loaded question above), but as we learn more, that possibility seems less and less likely.

Scondly, there is good reason that we didn't coordinate with Pakistan in the Bin Laden raid. Whether or not your military or intelligence organizations knew about Bin Laden's presence, somebody did. Al Queda and the Taliban have a strong presence in the country, and the lack of concrete evidence tying that support to the military or ISI is no reason to assume that there is in fact no such support. As such, any warning or coordination would have had a very real - and very reasonable - risk of tipping Bin Laden off. Pakistan can be indignant about not being told, but the cold fact is that they did not deserve that level of trust. Yes, I suppose we did violate their sovereignty. And if Bin Laden had been in, say, England, with whom we do share common interests and where there isn't a strong base of support for Bin Laden, and where corruption is not endemic, we wouldn't have done it without coordination or permission. But alas, Pakistan is no England, this is a war, and this was not a police action. If a country does not want its sovereignty violated, perhaps it is better to first ensure that the world's most wanted terrorist does not take up residence within its borders.

My message to Pakistan: you'd have done the same if the tables were turned. Your protests are hollow and unjustified. Get over it. If you really want to help defeat Al Queda, after screwing up Bin Laden so badly, you should double down and work with us on the follow up: interrogation of Bin Laden's widows and helping track other cells and other operatives.

Pakistan's government may actually be an ally. And The fact of the matter is that Pakistan

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