The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, US-Pakistan Relations, & the Curse of the Underdog
Events from a fortnight ago that resulted in the capture and summary execution of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were generally heralded by most people the world over as stout and warranted; which certainly isn’t astonishing by any stretch especially given that, but for the few adherents of the strand of extreme, violent Islam that the al Qaeda leader advanced, Bin Laden was seen by many as a vile, murderous man.
Since then, serious questions have been raised in many quarters about Pakistan’s role. What Islamabad knew and when about Bin Laden’s whereabouts or how plausible it was that Pakistani authorities were truly unaware that he had taken residence in such plain view; merely a few hundred yards from the prestigious Kakul Military Academy---Pakistan’s Sandhurst or West Point equivalent.
There have been scathing charges of scandalous duplicity, complicity and incompetence; recriminations that now threaten America’s relations with a key ally in its battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Depending on the level of demonstrable culpability, some in Congress are even toying with exerting punishing sanctions by scaling back or completely eliminating nearly $3 billion in annual aid to Pakistan.
Wide-spread and ostensibly justified as these feelings may be, they nonetheless are from just one perspective; one that though nursed by a self-righteous, mighty avenger, still reeks with an annoying air of superior indignation.
It’s perceptibly easy when one is not only the victor but the supreme partner in a lopsided relationship, to dominate or control the scope and depth of all transactions.
Put plainly, Washington is upset that its Pakistani lackeys were derelict in serving Bin Laden up on a silver platter!
Granted that Pakistan is in a position that is neither enviable nor dignified, an unbiased or objective review of the activities that Sunday evening in Abbottabad might instill much-needed reflective reasoning or decorum.
Assuming that it’s doable in the first place, how would we feel if an elite unit of the Pakistani army swooped down in the American heartland in the still of night and pulled off the same sort of venturesomely bold operation as we did in Abbottabad?
From a strictly international jurisprudence perspective, to the degree that Pakistani officials had no foreknowledge of and/or participation in “Operation Neptune Spear,” a strong case could be made that the US flagrantly violated Pakistan’s airspace and, therefore, its territorial integrity.
If one really takes time to examine many doomsday scenarios, what the US did in Abbottabad may rightfully be viewed as an act of war against Pakistan. Suppose things didn’t work out the way they did and suppose Pakistani military had the wherewithal to intervene while the operation was actually in process, does anyone think that the US military would not have taken all actions to safeguard those Navy Seals and their high-prized booty?
The Pakistanis clearly understand this and several officials high up in the government are gingerly walking the tightrope of attempting to offer up a dignified, face-saving response without necessarily exacerbating an already dicey situation and possibly losing direly-needed resources from its most valued benefactor. Between 2002 and 2010, Pakistan received well over $20 billion in military and economic aid from the US.
Amidst raucous applause from lawmakers, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani, in an address to Pakistan’s parliament last Monday, declared that "Unilateralism runs the inherent risk of serious consequences" but wasted no time intoning that Pakistan "attaches high importance" to its relations with the United States.
Besides, everyone knew that, apart from seeking to soften the embarrassment that was predictably ineluctable, Gilani’s bluster was verily intended for other real and imaginary foes; particularly the enemy next door---India.
So, he naturally felt compelled to applaud the Pakistani security forces for scrambling to muster a response, albeit long after the intruding US Special Operations forces had already safely left it’s air space, while quickly chiding that "no one should underestimate the resolve and capability of our nation and armed forces to defend our sacred homeland."
Such is the curse of the underdog. The raid in Abbottabad and the tepid reaction from Pakistan over what ordinarily would be viewed as an unassailable act of aggression disavows Pakistan’s “ally” status with the US and cements its true “client state” credentials.