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A dead Osama ― and what matters to whom

The security relationship between the United States and Pakistan is at risk of breaking down over the Osama bin Laden case. The U.S. would be disadvantaged in its Afghanistan withdrawal timetable and federal budget pruning if a rupture happened. Pakistan could as penance be made to take a cut in the $3 billion annual military aid it receives, but it will probably manage.

Just how bad the relationship has become was plain for all to see when Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reported to parliament. Pakistan would retaliate “with full force,” he said, if another breach of sovereignty took place in the manner of the Osama mission.

The U.S. had been warned earlier against fresh unmanned drone attacks, which had previously been tolerated. And Gilani made a point of mentioning China, an “all-weather friend” as he put it, as a foreign policy fallback if U.S. patronage deteriorated. Islamabad is saying it is angry.

But black, too, is the mood in the White House and Congress over what they think is duplicity over Osama’s Pakistani residency that it is likely the U.S. will continue to pressure its ally for the truth ― and to treat its military and intelligence sectors with disdain. It should desist. Osama is dead. The U.S. itself has declared confidently the world is safer. What could be gained from determining whether he had had support as a long-staying guest in the suburbs of the capital city? U.S. deductive logic about complicity has basis. Pakistan denies this. Did the U.S. expect a confession?

It is more productive for the U.S. to sort out with Pakistan the latter’s ambivalence in knocking out Taliban and al-Qaida elements in the tribal border region and within its own borders.

The U.S. is puzzled why its ally is blowing hot and cold. It has caught many of them, then Osama happens. A clash in priorities is the nub of the matter. The U.S. has short-term goals in the region: protection for its soldiers against attacks by the Taliban and overland supply routes for its operations in Afghanistan.

Appearances to the contrary, the commitment is not solely about exterminating terror at its Afghan source, for this campaign should embrace the whole world of mutant ideologies and training hotbeds.

But Pakistan has long-term goals. Its strategic ambiguity ― double-dealing to the U.S. ― is to secure for itself a friendly Afghanistan on its western flank when the Taliban is back in control, which appears a possibility after the U.S. withdraws.

That will allow Islamabad to focus its attention on India on its other flank, over the Kashmir issue primarily. India is its foreign policy obsession, not hill fighters. No wonder the Americans and Pakistanis are talking past each other.

(The Straits Times, May 11)