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Bin Laden's death further complicates US-Pakistani relationship

The US and Pakistan both have their own agendas in battling extremist terrorism.

Pakistan has been very helpful ferreting out Arabs living in their midst. And much of Al Qaeda’s top leadership is Arab. But when it comes to making war against its own people, Pakistan has to walk more carefully. Pakistan’s unity has always been fragile, and conciliation has to go hand in hand with military efforts to suppress dissent, Pakistanis say.

Don’t forget, Pakistanis say, that 80 percent of America’s military equipment for the Afghan war comes through the port of Karachi. Don’t forget that Pakistan has allowed drone attacks which are desperately unpopular in Pakistan, some times killing as many civilians as they do terrorists. And, although there is cooperation between intelligence services, no country in the world could countenance more CIA Raymond Davis types, gunning down Pakistani citizens in its streets.

The Pakistani army has more soldiers fighting the Taliban on its northwest frontier than Americans have fighting in Afghanistan, and they have taken far more casualties. As for safe havens, even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that when the Pakistani army forces Taliban out they can sometime have safe havens across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistani military men will also tell you that their army is not ready to attack North Waziristan when South Wasziristan, and other tribal territories, are not yet sufficiently secured. Not even the British, in their long wars on the frontier, took on all the tribes at once. Better to pay some tribes off while you attack others.

But the nub of the problem is that Pakistan knows that America will one day go, and Pakistan will be left with a messy Afghanistan, as has happened before. Therefore, as a hedge, Pakistan wants to keep relationships with some groups which Pakistan feels will be important when and if a deal with the Taliban is made. Why ask us to kill our friends in the Afghan Taliban with whom, one day, you will be bargaining? Pakistan could help you get out of Afghanistan if you would let us, Pakistanis say.

In the end, the demise of Osama bin Laden will be a plus for the US –Pakistani relationship. It doesn’t go to the core of the problem, but it removes a major irritant, especially if it turns out that Pakistan was a major help in finding him. The question of how much the Pakistanis knew about bin Laden's residency will probably be left unanswered. Both countries need each other too much for it to be otherwise.