Our Pakistan Problem
Now that we found Osama bin Laden relatively out in the open, what should we do?


Americans are justifiably angry with Pakistan right now. It is next to impossible to believe that bin Laden would have risked hiding out next to Pakistan’s West Point without inside help.

At the same time, we’ve got to remind ourselves that the very purpose of the War on Terror is to protect the American people. As a torn and fragile state with nuclear weapons, Pakistan is an accident waiting to happen. While the impulse to end all aid and forcefully ally ourselves with India is understandable, a total break with Pakistan would invite civil war, an Islamist coup, and/or an alliance with a hostile power. Any of those eventualities could place nuclear materials or finished weapons in the hands of terrorists, and choke off our Afghanistan supply lines to boot.

Having said that, to do nothing at this point would greatly reduce our leverage. If there are no visible consequences for a failure on this scale, when will there ever be? Best-case scenario: A vocal minority in Congress demands a total aid cut-off, leading to a last-minute compromise in which next year’s aid is reduced by 25 percent.

Ideally, that gives pro-Western elements in the government and military the leverage they need to push back against Islamist sympathizers. But there is a danger. The move could promote an anti-American backlash and deepen the divisions that helped create a safe haven for bin Laden to begin with. It’s a calculated risk, but at this point we need to take it.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of Radical-in-Chief.

Although the execution of Osama bin Laden was mainly a symbolic and psychological act of counterterrorism, its most immediate consequence, ironically, affects U.S.-Pakistan relations.

— In response to Pakistani upset about their national sovereignty being trespassed, the Zardari government severely condemned what it called “an unauthorized unilateral action.”

● Members of the U.S. Congress, already disappointed in the use of American aid to Pakistan, are so upset about apparent Pakistani government protection for bin Laden that they are talking of cutting back on the annual assistance, which came to almost $4.5 billion in 2010.

This sudden crisis in relations may be unexpected but it culminates a process that has developed over decades. Pakistan is one of several Muslim-majority countries (Yemen is another; Turkey is becoming a third) where the U.S. government basically lacks any friends.

Although such a situation severely limits American options, here is a realistic policy recommendation that serves American interests:

Give up on the pretense that the two governments are allies and treat Pakistan — with its many madrassahs, its Islamist military leadership, and rogue intelligence service — as a danger zone. Adopt a policy of containment vis-à-vis the Islamism coming out of it, rewarding cooperation and punishing hostile acts. This approach permits Washington flexibly to collaborate or confront as circumstances warrant and needs change.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.