Time to re-evaluate U.S-Pakistan relationship - Politico

The revelation that Osama bin Laden was comfortably hiding out for years in a city popular with Pakistan’s military elite raises disturbing questions that Islamabad needs to answer.

Pakistan will hopefully hold a high-level, civilian investigation — by respected and qualified people — to discover whether any Pakistani officials knew this and to share those answers with the Pakistani people and the international community.

Some basic questions: How was the land bought? How were permits acquired? How could a conspicuous structure be built without Pakistani officials being aware or investigating?

But even before the bin Laden discovery, Pakistan’s actions over the past few years convinced us that an honest look at the relationship between Washington and Islamabad — including our financial aid to Pakistan — is warranted. We need to examine our mutual strategic interests to determine how they align.

The record has been mixed.

Pakistan’s contributions to countering international terrorism need a clear-eyed review. Islamabad has arrested key senior terrorist leaders, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It has suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists — tens of thousands of Pakistani citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks over the past decade. Yet bin Laden’s hiding in plain sight for years suggests either complicity or incompetence on the part of Pakistani officials.

Most disturbing, though, are Pakistan’s continuing ties to extremist militant groups — particularly the Haqqani group in North Waziristan and the Afghan Taliban shura in and around Quetta. Pakistan provides safe harbor to the Haqqani insurgent group responsible for attacks against U.S. and coalition forces across the border in Afghanistan. Regardless of what Pakistan knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts, the Haqqani sanctuaries are well-known.

Similarly, Pakistan continues to provide safe haven for the Afghan Taliban leadership. It is an open secret that the area around Quetta is home to senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar. This is unacceptable.

Pakistan is also alleged to support the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, known as LT. This organization devised the 2008 Mumbai, India, attack — which killed six Americans. India has requested extradition of the LT leaders, but Pakistan has refused.

U.S.-Pakistan intelligence cooperation has become badly frayed in the past six months. Pakistani media, with the likely assistance of security forces, have twice published names of alleged CIA chiefs of station in Islamabad, posing a safety threat to U.S. citizens in the country.

We also need to review Pakistan’s conduct on nonproliferation. It continues building a significant nuclear arsenal. The Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan provided nuclear technology to the world’s most anti-U.S. regimes — including Iran, North Korea and Libya.

In addition, we need to revisit Pakistan’s role in regional stability. Given its population, economy and democratic institutions, Pakistan is inevitably a key player. Yet recent reports that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, urging him to weaken ties with Washington and instead strengthen relations with China are disconcerting. During an address to parliament on Monday, Gilani called China “Pakistan’s all-weather friend.”

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is at a pivotal moment. The return of the tail of the downed helicopter from the bin Laden raid could serve as a useful first step in repairing our ties. But it is essential that Pakistan cut its relations with the Haqqani group and the Afghan Taliban and prevent them from using Pakistan as a safe haven from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

Many Pakistanis, including those in the military, believe Washington undervalues the losses they have suffered from terrorist attacks. We understand that feeling — and we believe that should unite us in the fight against those who use Pakistani territory as a base for attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Pakistan should end the impunity, if not tacit approval, that those terrorists receive from Pakistan. As long as that situation exists, it will be difficult to maintain political support in the U.S. for our partnership.

There is still an opportunity to put our countries back on the path of partnership and defeat the terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children — including innocent Pakistanis. But that is likely to require not only answers to the legitimate questions about bin Laden’s presence but strong follow-through on Pakistan’s commitment to act against terrorists openly operating there against us and our allies in Afghanistan.