A year has passed and much water has gone under the proverbial bridge, yet so colossal was the impact of the Abbottabad raid that the contours of Pak-US relations stand transformed for times to come. The palpable sense of shock was understandable. The reality might be different, but till then there remained a strong perception about the presence of a close-knit Pak-US intelligence cooperation towards dismantling the Al-Qaeda network that, following the American sweep in Afghanistan in 2001, had grown roots in the FATA region and developed presence in the major population centres in Pakistan. Tracking Osama bin Laden remained a major priority in the sustained intelligence cooperation, but once the US SEALs landed in Abbottabad and scurried away with Osama’s dead body, without informing or coordinating operational details with Pakistani institutions and leadership, there emerged a deep seated sense of incredulity, shock and betrayal.
Such uncalled for harangue was downright degrading and the betrayal felt by the nation over the US arrogance was not without good reason. Pakistan had provided the vital intelligence and crucial footwork that led to the arrest of leading Al-Qaeda hierarchy; not only reducing the threat of terrorism to the US, but also providing crucial leads to track Osama bin Laden. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is accused of masterminded the attack on the twin towers in the financial district of Manhattan, and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the number three in the Al-Qaeda leadership hierarchy, were picked by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, and following short detention were handed over to the CIA for further grilling. Sheikh and al-Libbi provided tangible leads to Osama’s compound; they indicated to the presence of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a Pakistani born Pashtun named Ibrahim, who grew up in Kuwait and acquired the acronym of the ‘courier’ in the intelligence lexicon. The ‘courier’ was the vital link that could lead to Osama and once Pakistani intelligence agencies shared his initial tracking reports with the CIA, the latter blanked out on further intelligence sharing; deciding to go their own way to the acute betrayal of their Pakistani counterparts.
The arrogance and unilateral launch of Operation Geronimo raked up understandable public anger and despondency that the nation felt over such a brazen breach of national sovereignty and pride. Such a gung-ho posturing might be justifiable in the immediate flush of a long-awaited victory, but violating the sovereignty of Pakistan is a sensitive matter and a repetition of Operation Geronimo is fraught with serious consequences; both for Pakistan as well as the US. This aspect acquires poignancy as the US troops begin to roll back their presence, while Al-Qaeda maintains its footprints in the area and the threat of terrorism remains real and present.
In this context, the US will be ill advised to sideline Pakistan because its capability of gathering on ground intelligence on the Pak-Afghan border belt area remains incomparable. We can also face our detractors by confidently challenging quixotic US allegations of complicity in hiding Osama; no smoking gun has emerged despite concerted efforts to find one. It should be made obvious that sharing intelligence is a two-way process and if the CIA does not keep Pakistan in the intelligence sharing loop, so be it. Partnerships are affairs of equality and two-way communications. If the CIA wants to be suspicious, distrustful and unilateral, then Pakistan should set its own premium on the process of intelligence sharing.
We also need to make it obvious that our cooperation in the war on terror is subject to the respect accorded to our borders. The squelching of Nato supply routes through Pakistan, following the attack on the Salala checkpost in November last year’ is an appropriate step that should help us in drawing the line against cross border attacks. If the US does not respect us as a sovereign nation and remains adamant over its right to conduct unilateral missions without necessary coordination with Pakistan, then no unqualified support should be expected in return. Trust and respect demand reciprocation and if Washington tends to be haughty and scornful, we must calibrate our response accordingly.
Pakistan has an important role to play in finding a lasting solution for stabilising Afghanistan. Indeed, national interests drive bilateral relations and in our partnership with the USA, we have to make sure that at the end of the day we are not left in a cleft stick when it ultimately departs from Afghanistan. Our interests are legitimate and the concerns to keep our borders peaceful and friendly, genuinely compelling. Against this backdrop, we ought to be resolutely prepared to translate our ground strengths into tangible policy leverage that should effectively deter any future US adventure inside Pakistani territory.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.