Members of Pakistan’s army, which by some accounts is the world’s fifth-largest, have said little publicly about the U.S. operation. But interviews with officers suggest that there is a raucous and broad internal debate — one that is unlikely to undermine the institution, military analysts said, but that bodes poorly for U.S. hopes of an expanded Pakistani effort against Islamist militants.
To head off the discontent, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, made town-hall-style appearances last week at five garrisons, where he faced barbed questions from officers about the U.S. raid, according to some who attended. After a 45-minute address to the 5th Corps in the southern port city of Karachi, Kayani took queries for three hours. Attendees said questioners focused on the perceived affront in Abbottabad — and why Pakistan, in the words of one officer, did not “retaliate.”
In a meeting Sunday with visiting Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Kayani relayed the “intense feelings” of the rank and file, according to a two-sentence military statement. Those sentiments have sparked fears of morale and discipline problems, retired Pakistani defense officials said.
“It’s never good for a military of that size to have a feeling of resentment,” said retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a security analyst. The discovery of bin Laden, he added, “has stung them as much as it has stung the whole world.”
Even so, no officers interviewed said that the bin Laden killing had convinced them that Pakistan needs to work harder to find terrorists or shift the focus of its defense strategy from archenemy India. Instead, some expressed hope that their superiors would stand up to the United States, by either cutting ties or extracting guarantees of an end to unilateral U.S. actions.
Pakistan should “immediately suspend cooperation with the U.S.,” said one officer in the country’s north, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the matter publicly. “In the lower ranks, anti-Americanism is at its highest.”
The United States, officers said, too rarely acknowledges that 140,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in the militant-riddled northwest, tasked with fighting fellow Muslims and compatriots. Nearly 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed battling Islamist insurgents since 2001, according to the army. Recent accusations from Washington about Pakistani complicity with insurgents have prompted fresh reflections about that mission, they said.