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US presidential debate

Shamil ShamsOctober 24, 2012

Pakistani experts say that President Obama's remark that former al Qaeda leader bin Laden would have escaped if the US had sought Pakistan's permission is proof that the US does not trust Islamabad on terrorism issues.

US President Barack Obama makes a point during the final US presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida, October 22, 2012 (Photo: REUTERS/Scott Audette)
Image: Reuters

Pakistani political analysts believe that US President Barack Obama indirectly suggested during the presidential debate that the Pakistani authorities were aware of Osama bin Laden's presence in their country.

In Monday's foreign policy debate against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Obama said that had his administration sought Islamabad's permission to go after bin Laden, he would not have got al Qaeda's former head.

In May 2011, American Special Forces unilaterally raided a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad and killed bin Laden, who had been hiding in the garrison town for at least six years. Although the Pakistani government hailed the assassination of bin Laden, it expressed its displeasure over the violation of its territorial sovereignty by US forces. US-Pakistani ties deteriorated after the incident.

It is not the first time that President Obama has cited the risks of involving Islamabad in the bin Laden raid. Shortly after bin Laden's assassination, Leon Panetta, then CIA director and now the US defense secretary, said in an interview that the Obama administration believed the Pakistanis "might alert the targets." But it is the first time that the US President has presented this risk in such a matter-of-fact way.

A Pakistani soldier stands near a compound in Abbottabad where former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding (Photo: Anjum Naveed/AP/dapd)
Bin Laden assassination 'sent shock waves to the lower and middle-rank soldiers,' says expertImage: dapd

Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the US at the time of bin Laden's killing, also voiced a similar opinion in Washington in August when he said he believed some people in the Pakistani establishment knew of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Lack of trust

Veteran Pakistani journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said the reason why Obama came out so bluntly about Pakistani authorities and their alleged connection with bin Laden was that he had to prove his leadership mettle to US citizens ahead of the presidential election.

"Obama's remarks were proof that the US did not trust Pakistan when it comes to issues of terrorism and Islamist militancy," Salahuddin told DW.

President Obama also said during the debate that the nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the military and its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) called the shots, could not be left on its own. He said that an unstable Pakistan would be a big risk for Afghanistan's future.

US President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the final US presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking)
Romney said that targeting terrorists alone would not be enough to defeat terrorismImage: Reuters

"The US still has to deal with Islamabad diplomatically because it knows that instability in Pakistan is synonymous with the disaster in the region," Salahuddin said.

Dr. Naeem Ahmed, an International Relations lecturer at the University of Karachi, told DW that contrary to popular perception in Pakistan, the US and Pakistani establishment did not have an absolute understanding on all security matters. Issues were more complex and complicated than people thought, he added.

"The Pakistani military is not a monolithic entity. It is an organized institution, but the middle ranks of the Pakistani armed forces are unhappy with the way the US attempted to undermine Pakistan's sovereignty by launching a unilateral attack (in Abbottabad) inside Pakistan.

Many other Pakistani analysts also point out that Washington and Islamabad have different interests in Afghanistan and that they disagree on how to deal with Islamist militancy. To prove their point, they give the example of the militant Haqqani network, which US officials believe is backed by the ISI and the Pakistani military. Pakistan denies these claims.

'A client state'

Pakistani political activist Khaliq Junejo is of the opinion that Obama's claim that the US did not involve Islamabad to hunt down bin Laden did not carry weight.

"I agree that it was not possible that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities but the US must have taken the Pakistani establishment into confidence prior to the raid." Khaliq told DW, adding that the history of the US-Pakistani ties was proof that the two countries shared common interests on issues of strategic and regional significance.

Pakistan's 'Ghauri' missile on display during the Pakistan National Day parade in Islamabad (Photo: ddp images/AP/B.K.Bangash)
Experts say that the Pakistani government does not have much say in security mattersImage: AP

A Pakistani researcher from Balochistan, who spoke with DW on condition of anonymity, said "Pakistan is a US' 'client-state,'" and that the rift claims were "a mere gimmick."

"Pakistan does what it is assigned by the US. Pakistan performs the task and the US reimburses the costs of operations and services. Therefore, to say that Islamabad can rebel against its master is ridiculous," said the researcher, who claimed he had received several death threats for speaking out against Pakistani officials.