Ding Dong, Osama's Dead -- But Pakistan and Its Nukes Are Scarier Than Ever

Last Updated May 2, 2011 3:54 PM EDT


As the details of Osama bin Laden's death emerged via Twitter, mainstream media and the late-night speech from President Obama, my immediate reaction wasn't celebratory -- it was dread.

We now know that bin Laden wasn't wasting away in some dank cave in Pakistan's mountainous tribal areas. Instead, bin Laden was living in a large compound in an affluent suburb of Abbottabad, some 40 miles outside the capital city Islamabad -- an area known for its military establishments. In fact, the compound was less than one-kilometer from the Pakistan Military Academy, where the country's officers are trained and whose alumni include former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the current chief of army staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

This means that the Pakistani government and security forces are either a bunch of incompetent nincompoops who didn't think it just a tad suspicious that a large compound -- nearly eight times larger than the typical homes in the area -- with 12-foot high concrete walls topped with barbed wire sprang up in the town in 2005; or that they knew all along. Yeah, it's most likely the latter.

Pakistan: Not exactly a sterling U.S. ally
Meaning that Pakistan, a country with nuclear weapons and which some of the world's most dangerous terrorists call home, is far from a full partner with the West.

The Pakistani government and military is considered more reliably pro-Western than their Middle Eastern counterparts. But that doesn't mean much. The government is deeply fractured, and while some folks within the government recognize the threat of Islamic radicalism and support the West, we can't assume by any measure that they have total control.

In short, Pakistan can't be considered a reliable partner. Obama took pains during his speech to note that Pakistan's cooperation "helped lead us to bin Laden." But the Pakistani government wasn't notified in advance -- thankfully -- and Pakistani troops didn't participate.

Growing and modernizing nuclear facilities
And that's troubling because Pakistan's nuclear weapons facilities continue to grow and modernize. Pakistan has added to its arsenal at a frenetic pace and is on track become the fourth largest nuclear power after the U.S., Russia and China. Just last week, Pakistan carried out a successful test of a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Pakistan's rapid nuclear expansion is widely view as a deterrent to its enemy, neighboring India. But there are other motivations afoot as well.

Pakistan may very well be protecting itself from the United States. U.S.-Pakistani relations are hardly on solid ground. Last fall, Obama warned the government and its army chief Kayani that another terror attack on the U.S. that is connected back to Pakistan could lead to a profound crisis. But as Bruce Reidel, a former CIA officer and chair of Obama's strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan recently noted, "Kayani understands that as long as Pakistan has a nuclear weapon, Washington will have to hesitate before using force."

Pakistan: The AIG of nation-states
Pakistan understands where it falls on the U.S. priority list. It knows that as a nuclear weapons state it is simply too big to fail. Pakistan can look forward to continued U.S. aid aimed at preventing the country from sliding further into the depths of Islamic radicalism. As Steve Coll over at the New Yorker put it: Pakistan is currently the A.I.G. of nation-states.

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  • Kirsten Korosec

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