It’s been four months since the day an elite team of Navy Seals swooped down onto a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan and vanquished the most wanted terrorist in the world. One of President Obama’s principal foreign policy goals was that if he had actual intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, he would not hesitate to strike with or without Pakistan’s help. I feel he was completely justified in ordering the assassination of the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children over a period nearly 20 years, and he was completely justified in not giving away information to Pakistan for fear of their jeopardizing the assault. Thankfully, the operation could not have gone any smoother and bin Laden was buried at sea…and, to many, the dark chapter that began on September 11th, 2001 ended on May 1st, 2011…
…But this appears to have come at a price!
Here we are, 10 years after the attacks, and we’re still relying on one of the most reckless, unstable countries in the entire world for intelligence gathering, helping seal the Afghan border and quelling their own internal rebellion. Forget Iran, Russia or China. Pakistan is, without a doubt, proud owner of the title: “Most Dangerous Country in the World.” With a listing of #12 on Foreign Policy’s “Failed States 2011 Index”, this South Asian country is literally hanging by a thread and could easily occupy the top spot if President Asif Zardari’s government were to be overthrown and his military incapable of controlling the chaos that would be sure to follow. It is estimated that Pakistan possesses 100 nuclear weapons, and while the Pakistani military has consistently tried to reassure the international community that these weapons are locked up and safe, recent attacks by the Pakistani Taliban near nuclear facilities continue to show just how vulnerable they are.
America just recently decided to withhold a massive chunk of money promised them for their pledge to fight terror ($800 million, along with $300 million in reimbursement for counterinsurgency expenditures). The Obama Administration was right in their decision to delay in disbursing these funds, as it has become quite clear since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan ten years ago, that this South Asian ally gives us more reasons to pause than not. The advantages to this would be, hopefully, to force Pakistan to get serious on their commitment to fighting terrorism. On the other hand, it could already make a fragile alliance worse and play into the hands of extremists by beefing up their argument that America can’t be trusted one way or another: “Holding back the $800 million in aid is unlikely to pressure Pakistan to increase cooperation with the U.S. and could strengthen those in the government who argue that Washington is a fickle ally who can’t be trusted” claimed Pakistani officials, quoted in an article from www.military.com. The article later goes on to state that this move, while reasonable in the eyes of America, might push Pakistan back towards its old Cold War ally, China. I don’t, and have never truly viewed, Pakistan as a solid U.S. ally, and this opinion is based on history going back over 20 years.
As the Soviet-Afghan war was winding down in 1988, bin Laden gathered his Arab fighters together in Peshawar, and out of the remnants of the mujahadeen, formed the nucleus of Al Qaeda. It just so happens that Peshawar is located in northwestern Pakistan, in the country’s region known as FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Areas. For the most part this area is ungovernable, which makes it prime real estate for militants. Within FATA is the Khyber Pass, which served as a route for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants to escape U.S. bombing in Afghanistan and regroup and re-energize in Pakistan. It is in FATA that Pashtun tribes, living under semi-autonomy, give shelter to Islamic militants, who operate with almost total freedom, to both launch suicide bombings in the urban areas of Pakistan, as well as launch cross-border attacks again U.S. and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. No matter how many military operations the Pakistani army has launched in these areas, they have pretty much all been met with little to no degrees of success. And there is no doubt that Pakistan’s corrupt intelligence agency, ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), has become infiltrated with Muslim extremists (this is obvious with the bravura of Taliban attacks inside Pakistan), if not garnering tremendous sympathy towards the group (the seizure of bin Laden’s courier’s cell phone following the raid also revealed contacts of Harakat-ul-Muhajahedeen, a Pakistani militant group with known ties to the ISI, discussed in a New York Times article). The ISI helped bring the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in the mid-nineties as a government that would be hostile to Pakistan’s arch rival, India. Pakistan was one of the Taliban’s earliest supporters, and continued to fund, train and supply the them right up until former President George W. Bush told former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that he had to choose between the shadowy, brutal regime and the world’s only superpower.
Yet ten years later our relationship with Pakistan has been anything but simple. It has basically allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup within its borders, and, probably the biggest whopper of international affairs, claimed total oblivion to the fact that Osama bin Laden was living in a not-so nondescript mansion in Abbottabad, located a mere 35 miles from the capital, Islamabad, and less than one mile from a major military garrison for the Pakistani army. How can any reasonable person honestly believe that the Pakistani government, the Army, or, god for bid, the ISI, had no knowledge that bin Laden was hiding out in almost plain sight, and not in some remote cave on the Afghan-Pakistan border as many had believed for years?!
New Yorker reporter Nicholas Schmidle wrote a phenomenal article detailing the events surrounding bin Laden’s assassination. It read like the screenplay to a fast-paced spy thriller that only writer/director Paul Greengrass could have concocted. Now fast-forward the beyond-nightmare scenario when any number of contingencies results in the total collapse of what little stability Pakistan currently possesses…and the unguarded 100+ nuclear weapons sitting idle, just waiting for any extremist group, be it Al Qaeda or LET (Lashkar-e-Taiba) to seize them and begin putting their deeply-laid plans of urban destruction to work. NBC Investigative Reporter, Robert Windrem, highlights a variety of scenarios that the U.S. is considering when nuclear weapons are at stake: “Pakistan plunging into internal chaos, terrorists mounting a serious attack against a nuclear facility, hostilities breaking out with India or Islamic extremists taking charge of the government or the Pakistan army.” In his article, “US Prepares for Worst-case Scenario with Pakistan Nukes,” Windrem states how the Pentagon has plans for getting control of the facilities should any one of these hypotheticals comes to pass. And Pakistan does not trust us anymore either, given the stealth activity that the Seals displayed when dispatching bin Laden. Their fear that America would conduct a similar raid to secure their nuclear weapons doesn’t sit too well with them all the same; Musharraf even stated in Windrem’s article that an incident like that would lead to “total confrontation” between the U.S. and Pakistan. Um…Pakistan had bin Laden inside their borders since 2005 and did nothing about it?! America would be completely justified in securing that country’s nuclear arsenal, just as it was in fulfilling President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to hunt down bin Laden. Yet if it ever looked like Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were literally moments away from seizure by anti-government forces, we would have no choice but to go in there and risk confrontation to prevent catastrophe. Former Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, once said, “In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.” I see a raid on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and a possible military conflict as a chance to avoid not only a wider war, but a way to avoid the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of innocents. And unlike the scenario of getting bin Laden, this one might not have the satisfactory ending we’re all hoping for!