News / Asia

Uproar Over bin Laden Hideout Strains US-Pakistan Relations

A man watches Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on a televised address to the parliament at an appliance store in Islamabad on May 9, 2011.
A man watches Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on a televised address to the parliament at an appliance store in Islamabad on May 9, 2011.
Meredith Buel

The uproar following the discovery of Osama bin Laden's hideout near Islamabad has brought more pressure on the already strained relationship between the United States and Pakistan.  Some South Asia analysts say bin Laden's death last week in a U.S. commando raid, while causing fractures between uneasy allies, could in the long run strengthen the strategic bond between the two countries.

Bin Laden's compound was found a relatively short distance from Islamabad, raising serious questions about whether Pakistani military and security officials were aware the world's most wanted man was living for years so close to the country's capital.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly denied Pakistani authorities had ties with the al-Qaida leader.

"Yes, there has been an intelligence failure," said Gilani.  "It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world."

While U.S. officials have not said Pakistani authorities were aware of bin Laden's presence, President Barack Obama has indicated he believes there was a support network for the terrorist leader inside Pakistan.

Some South Asia experts say now is the time to raise the pressure on Islamabad.

"This is a great moment to use a sledgehammer.  This is the first great moment since 9/11 to use a sledgehammer," said Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.  

Dhume argues that bin Laden's death offers an opportunity to press Pakistan to increase its efforts against militant sanctuaries along the border with Afghanistan.

"I think the gravity of the situation is such, the international media attention is such, we have an opportunity to ask them to do bigger things than we could have asked a week or two ago," added Dhume.

Dhume says the concrete actions the United States should demand from Pakistan include hunting down bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.  Both men's whereabouts are unknown, but some analysts believe they are hiding in Pakistan.

Shuja Nawaz, a native of Pakistan, is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Nawaz says bin Laden's death offers what he calls a "supreme opportunity" to improve the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

"For the Pakistanis to begin that change by having a very serious introspective analysis of exactly what is their national strategic interest, what is their regional imperative that would bring them closer to Afghanistan, reduce hostility with India and put the relationship with the United States on a very honest footing," added Nawaz.

The United States has given Pakistan billions of dollars in aid in recent years, and some members of the U.S. Congress say it is time to reevaluate the relationship.

Others argue the funding should continue to encourage more cooperation on counterterrorism.

Former U.S. Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who was chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, says both countries need each other to advance foreign policy priorities.

"We need this relationship," said Hoekstra.  "We need it to continue a strong effort in the war on radical jihadism, against al-Qaida and what we are doing in Afghanistan."

While the rhetoric has been heated in Washington and Islamabad, Prime Minister Gilani has made it clear the relationship will continue.

"Apprehensions are being voiced about our relations with the United States," said Gilani.  "Let me dispel any anxiety in this regard. Pakistan attaches high importance to its relations with the U.S. We have a strategic partnership which we believe serves our mutual interests."

Following a trip to India last year, President Obama promised to visit Pakistan in 2011.

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