It’s not every day that you see the president of an independent, sovereign country take to the pages of an American newspaper with an op-ed arguing that his government is not collaborating with and protecting terrorists.
But then again, I’m not sure there’s another country quite like Pakistan, which has been double-dealing in Afghanistan and in the war on terror for years, and which now has been caught knowingly harboring and protecting the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
Oh, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, denies this in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post. “Some in the U.S. press,” he argues,
have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact.
Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as it is America’s. And though it may have started with bin Laden, the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat.
President Zardari is absolutely right: Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups are a serious threat to the civic health and stability of Pakistan. And the United States does need to work closely with Islamabad to combat these threats.
But Zardari is being disingenuous when he skirts the issue of Pakistani complicity in protecting bin Laden. The plain fact is that bin Laden was not, as U.S. intelligence analyst had thought — and as I had reported here at the American Spectator Sunday night — hiding in distant, underground caves.
Instead, he was living in a plush and well populated residential area (Abbottabad) 31 miles northeast of Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad. And it simply defies credulity to believe that bin Laden was living there without the knowledge and acquiescence of key members of the Pakistani military and political class.
To be sure, bin Laden reportedly was without phone or Internet access, and thus likely had no real command and control authority or ability. Still, the fact remains that our Pakistani “allies” were protecting bin Laden, even though they knew we wanted him — dead or alive as former President Bush put it.
Does this mean we should cut off relations with Pakistan and target them in the war on terror? Of course not. We need Pakistan’s help and collaboration. And, as President Zardari rightly observes, Pakistan has as much to fear from Islamic terrorists and Islamic extremism as we do.
But we also have to be honest and forthright — with ourselves, with our Pakistani partners, and with the world — about Pakistani double-dealing and complicity with the enemies of the civilized world. We need to make clear to President Zardari that turning a blind eye to terrorists — and especially the world’s most heinous and most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden — is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Beyond rhetorical protestations, though, there are other more tangible steps that we can take, including leveraging our billions of dollars in foreign aid to Pakistan to demand more honesty and transparency about terrorist networks within Waziristan.
Moreover, as Bing West suggests, the United States can and should use this occasion “to step up its attacks against other terrorists inside Pakistan, especially along the Afghan border.”
By finding and killing bin Laden in a well protected (and obviously well known) Pakistani compound, the United States has seized the moral high ground, and our Pakistani friends — including President Zardari — know it. We must press our advantage to demand more tangible action by them against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
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