Implications for US-Pakistan Relations Following the Killing of Osama bin Laden

May 3, 2011 | By Isaac Kfir

Once the commotion and the furor dies down over the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 by US special forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, a small wealthy city located 90 miles from Islamabad and to where many former military officers retire, US-Pakistani relations will go through some form of reassessment. This recent incident would appear to be a tipping point in US-Pakistani relations which have been very tense over the last few months, if not years. At the root of the tension is the belief of US senior military officials and policymakers that Pakistan is not doing its part in the campaign against Islamic terrorism and instability in Afghanistan, with Admiral Mullen among others pointing an accusing finger at Pakistan and the infamous ISI. The fact that the world’s number 1 terrorist was living so close to the Pakistani capital would not assuage American distrust of their Pakistani allies. The Pakistani government however claims that the US does not appreciate its sacrifices nor appreciate the complexity of the conflict.

It is likely that once the euphoria within US circles passes and the jubilation eases, tensions between the two countries would increase, as this has been the course the two have been on for quite some time. The ‘Pakistani Street’ is already angered by America’s unrestricted drone campaign and the Raymond Davis case (CIA operative who killed two Pakistani civilians in January 2011) and will surely resent the fact that US Special Forces were operating on Pakistani sovereign territory. Explaining why it permitted this will be a major challenge for Pakistan’s perpetually fragile Gilani government. The operation is also likely to infuriate many junior officers who take great pride in their own military capabilities.

How the operation will affect the way the US approaches its relations with Pakistan is more difficult to gauge, as many in Washington will use the evidence of bin Laden’s location to support their view that Pakistan is an unreliable ally. Others may see it as a watershed and a real commitment by the Pakistani military to support US efforts in South Asia. American policymakers buoyed by the success in Abbottabad will make more demands on Pakistan, especially as President Obama prepares for the 2012 Presidential campaign. For the fragile Gilani government and the unpopular Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, bin Laden’s death is likely to create more tensions, instability and insecurity, as it emphasizes how beholden the Pakistani ruling elite is to Uncle Sam. Ultimately, the future for US-Pakistani relations is far from rosy.

Share us!