Pakistani officials often complain about the media’s portrayal of their country as the “epicenter of global terrorism.”
Bring out your smallest violin.
Just this week, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was forced to address the contents of a leaked NATO report. That secret report detailed interrogations of thousands of captured Taliban who say they received direction and support from Pakistan’s intelligence service. Calling it “old wine in an even older bottle,” Khar dismissed the report as merely another attempt to discredit Pakistan.
Pakistani officials must do more than issue cleverly worded denials to improve their counterterrorism credentials. And now, it looks like they may undermine their credibility even further.
Incredibly, some officials are actually considering laying charges of treason against the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track Usama bin Laden. Such a move would not only further strain U.S.-Pakistan relations, it would permanently stain Islamabad’s counterterrorism record.
Senior U.S. officials say they have no specific proof that top Pakistani leaders knew about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. However, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said he has a hunch someone in the Pakistani military establishment knew something, citing the fact that Pakistani military helicopters flew over the bin Laden compound. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Members of Congress last June it was possible that lower-level Pakistani officials were involved in protecting the international terrorist.
Many Americans find it incredible that Pakistan’s military leaders were unaware of bin Laden’s hideout. But no reports of direct Pakistani complicity in sheltering bin Laden have surfaced from the reams of information and computer drives collected from the compound.
Still, Pakistan’s segmented approach toward terrorism contributed to bin Laden’s ability to live undetected in a military town deep inside the country. Pakistan’s intelligence service has long supported Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, or HuM, a Pakistani terrorist group. HuM leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil lives openly on the outskirts of Islamabad, and HuM members reportedly were in contact with bin Laden’s courier.
Pakistani military and intelligence officials continue to believe that terrorist groups like the HuM and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, or LeT, which was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, constitute their most effective assets to counter Indian regional influence and to pressure New Delhi over Kashmir. They have little concern about these groups’ links to international terrorism and the questions these links raise about Pakistan’s overall commitment to fighting terrorism.
U.S. officials must reject Pakistani efforts to distinguish between different terrorist groups. Islamabad’s dualistic policies hurt the international community’s ability to get a handle on the threat from global terrorists.
The Pakistani military’s pride may have been stung by the U.S. decision to pursue the bin Laden operation unilaterally. But rather than react with anger toward the U.S., Pakistan should consider how it can regain the trust of the international community and live down its moniker as “the most dangerous place in the world.”
Instead of punishing those who helped take down the world’s most wanted terrorist, Pakistani authorities should focus on finding and punishing those who helped shelter him. They are the ones who are putting Pakistan’s sovereignty and international reputation at risk.
Pakistan’s overall commitment to fighting terrorism already is under question. Why exacerbate the problem by punishing an individual who helped make all civilized nations, including Pakistan, safer from the terrorist scourge?
Lisa Curtis is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.