Weekend at Bin Laden’s: Foreign Aid to Pakistan

The big news of the day is that Osama Bin Laden is dead.  Hooray!  He was killed in a special-forces operation coordinated and executed by the United States without the knowledge of the Pakistani government or the military.  Bin Laden was found in a medium-sized city 35 miles north of Islamabad living in a compound on the outskirts of town that is valued at $1 million and is said to be eight times the size of any other houses in the area, complete with twelve-foot walls surrounded by barbed wire.  And the strangest part of it all is the proximity of the late Bin Laden’s neighbor – the largest military academy (the Pakistani equivalent of West Point) – to the place he was killed by U.S. forces.  Specifically, it was located 800 meters away.

For the last ten years, the Pakistani military has been on the receiving end of some very generous military aid from the United States government, which was actually intended to aid in the capture of Bin Laden.  But now, that aid is in jeopardy:

The presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan, something Pakistani officials have long dismissed, goes to the heart of the lack of trust Washington has felt over the last 10 years with its contentious ally, the Pakistani military and its powerful spy partner, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

With Bin Laden’s death, perhaps the central reason for an alliance forged on the ashes of 9/11 has been removed, at a moment when relations between the countries are already at one of their lowest points as their strategic interests diverge over the shape of a post-war Afghanistan.

For nearly a decade, the United States has paid Pakistan more than $1 billion a year for counterterrorism operations whose chief aim was the killing or capture of Bin Laden, who slipped across the border from Afghanistan after the American invasion.

The circumstance of Bin Laden’s death may not only jeopardize that aid, but will also no doubt deepen suspicions that Pakistan has played a double game, and perhaps even knowingly harbored the Qaeda leader.

When I think about the incentives around capturing Bin Laden, which means that the U.S. military will have less of a strategic interest in building good will and equipping the Pakistani military (which is notoriously difficult to deal with), and harboring him in the country, which means they have a steady stream of $1 billion in military aid every year, it makes sense to me that they hid him as long as they did.  And, according to John Brennan, the national security advisor to the White House, it is “inconceivable that Osama Bin Laden had no support in Pakistan.”  What happens next with the amount of aid the U.S. provides to Pakistan will be interesting.  But for now, let’s celebrate!  We got him!

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