A pall descended over Islamabad as the world learned of Osama bin Laden’s death. Once again Pakistan was in the cross hairs of a terrorism-weary world, this time accused of sheltering the planet’s most-wanted terrorist. Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout has put the lie to the perception of improved relations between Pakistan and the United States since the Obama administration took office, and largely scuttled the goodwill Islamabad had accrued for its own fight against terrorism.
The United States and its European allies are pressing Pakistan to come clean on how and when bin Laden arrived in Abbottabad and to reassure the world of its commitment to fight terrorism. Some in Congress will continue questioning the level of civilian and military assistance to Pakistan, especially in light of this week’s blow to al-Qaeda. Others already envision an end to the war in Afghanistan.
But these are the least of Pakistan’s problems. The CIA shattered Pakistan’s intelligence establishment’s confidence with its ability to hunt and kill bin Laden right under the nose of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Yet the ISI’s real worry is that the next item on the CIA’s agenda could be one of the two Taliban leaders the United States holds most directly responsible for the insurgency in Afghanistan, and who are believed to be hiding in Pakistan: Mullah Omar or Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of his eponymous terrorist network. And if the CIA found bin Laden, then it could probably find everything it wants to know about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
It has become clear that since 2009 the CIA has built an infrastructure of intelligence gathering and operational capability that opened up Pakistan’s underworld of jihadists, spooks and terrorists. There are no more secrets. Worse yet, the United States can act at will to kill, capture or destroy in Pakistan — even in an army town.
Pakistan’s strategic calculus has long been shaped by its rivalry with neighboring India. Because it had never done well against India on the battlefield, Pakistan’s military turned to jihadi fighters and terrorists to further its interests against India and in Afghanistan. This strategy worked because the ISI ran a tight ship, protecting the country’s secrets. But it can no longer afford such complacency.
Pakistan realized all this after Raymond Davis, an alleged CIA contractor, shot two armed men who were trailing him in January. The diplomatic crisis that followed his arrest seriously damaged U.S.-Pakistan relations. The Pakistani press reported that Davis was operating in Lahore unbeknownst to the ISI and was gathering information on the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba. The ISI worried about the specter of CIA agents running operations in Pakistani cities and against a terrorist group that most perceive to be a pawn of the Pakistani government.
The ISI used the Davis imbroglio to reduce the CIA’s footprint in Pakistan. It did not want more Davises poking around every nook and cranny — exactly the kind of legwork that led the CIA to bin Laden.