NPR logo Pakistan May Frustrate U.S. But Consider Alternative

Pakistan May Frustrate U.S. But Consider Alternative

Everyone, including Pakistani officials, now knows who lived in this supersized house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Everyone, including Pakistani officials, now knows who lived in this supersized house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.


There's a lot of huffing and puffing in Washington and beyond about Pakistan in the wake of the successful U.S. military mission that killed Osama bin Laden at his safe house in that nation.

It strains credulity, for instance, that no Pakistani officials knew that the world's most famous terrorist was living in a fortified Pakistani version of a McMansion that was far beyond the scale of other houses in the residential neighborhood. provides a service by giving examples of Pakistani officials over the years denying any knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts, particularly when they were asked if he and other senior al Qaida or Taliban types were in Pakistan.

U.S. officials and taxpayers certainly have about three billion reasons a year to expect better from Pakistan, $3 billion a year being the size of the aid package the U.S. is giving Pakistan annually.

There's talk by some on Capitol Hill about withholding that funding until Pakistani officials provide a convincing explanation about what they knew about bin Laden's residency and when they knew it. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has threatened to hold up funding until the Pakistanis come clean.

But New Yorker writer Dexter Filkins made perhaps the salient point in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, co-host of Morning Edition. Pakistan is too big and, I might add, too dangerous to fail. And fail it might if the U.S. decides to wash its hands of it.

Americans are well past the limits of their patience with the Pakistani double-game in which that nation's intelligence service "helps" the U.S. round up terrorists than turns around and supports the same Taliban insurgents who kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And Pakistanis are angry at the U.S.' use of Predator drones that launch Hellfire missiles meant to kill terrorists and insurgents but that sometimes kill innocent civilians.

But we both desperately need each other. As Filkins put it:

The whole relationship right now, I've never seen it so bad. The problem here in Pakistan is the same as the problem with Afghanistan which is that it's a terrible situation but it's easy to imagine it getting worse.

And that's the problem with Pakistan. If you walk away from it, it would provide everybody with a lot of emotional satisfaction. (But) the state could collapse. And this is a country with 200 million people sitting on a huge nuclear arsenal. So the consequences of failure are enormous. And that's the dilemma.

In other words, if Citibank was too big to fail, Pakistan is even more so. Not only is it too big to fail, it is too dangerous to fail. Citibank didn't have nuclear warheads and extremists wanting to get their hands on them.

That's certainly likely to be in the minds of U.S. policymakers who might be tempted to turn off the cash spigot to Pakistan, especially given the fiscal pressures facing the U.S. but afraid of the unintended consequences. has another piece well worth reading since it drives home the point that it's not just the U.S. and other Western nations who need to constantly try to separate from fact from fiction when dealing with Pakistani officials. Pakistanis themselves must do the same.

Mossharaf Zaidi, who's identified as an adviser to governments and international organizations writes:

If Americans are confused about exactly what Pakistan is up to, they need to get in line. Pakistanis are more confused — utterly so.

This confusion has been carefully cultivated by a national elite whose singular focus is the accumulation of wealth, at all costs. In the near-decade since 9/11, Pakistan's generals, judges, politicians, and bureaucrats have constructed two separate and equally effective narratives. To the West, they sold the bin Laden version of Pakistan: a fanatical nation, full of restless natives armed to the teeth with hatred and — if the West wasn't careful — nukes. To ordinary Pakistanis, they sold the Ugly American version of the rest of the world: a big bad Uncle Sam and friends who were always burning Korans, knighting Salman Rushdies, and violating the Land of the Pure (the literal meaning of "Pakistan").