x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Pakistan and the US still need to strengthen ties

Whatever Pakistan's government - or part of it – knew about Osama bin Laden's wherabouts, the reality has not changed: Pakistan and the US need each other, and both sides should remember that.

To many in American corridors of power, Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan may appear to be nothing less than betrayal. How could the al Qa'eda chief reside so close to Islamabad without detection, possibly for years? And why should the US taxpayer foot the bill for military and civilian aid to such a country?

"Before we do the next budget I intend to get a lot more answers," one senior US legislator, Sen Patrick Leahy, put it Tuesday.

Given Pakistan's incessant denials of knowledge, there is an obvious need now for an explanation. But in any case the reality is that the United States and Pakistan need each other, perhaps now more than ever.

Instability in Pakistan has long been a threat to domestic and regional security. The lawless areas that make up the country's north-west have proven particularly vexing for Nato's efforts in neighbouring Afghanistan. Domestic terrorism has claimed tens of thousands of Pakistani lives. And the country's nuclear weapons mean Washington cannot afford to disengage.

For all its faults and problems, however, Pakistan has shown remarkable perseverance in the fight against terrorism, despite factionalism and competing interests within the country's intelligence and military services. But in order to convince Pakistanis themselves to unite, underdeveloped regions will need international support and capacity-building.

Islamabad has not helped its own cause in convincing the world of its intentions. Writing in the Washington Post, the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, praised the killing of bin Laden but insisted his forces did not co-operate in the American raid. Pakistan's foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, seemed to suggest the opposite when he told the BBC that the compound where bin Laden was found had long been on Pakistan's radar.

We may never know who knew what and when they knew it. Agencies with competing agendas do not listen to each other very well.

The opacity may also be intentional. Anti-American sentiment runs deep in Pakistan, and with threats of Taliban retaliation being heard, the government clearly wants to keep its public distance from the US.

If anything good can come from this episode, it would be for Pakistanis across the spectrum to reject violent extremism. Supporting militant groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba should now be seen as bringing more trouble than benefit.

Bin Laden had found safety in Pakistan, a wrong that has since been corrected. But Washington must realise - for regional security and bilateral relations - that Pakistan is much more than one man's evil creed.