Even as the United States-Pakistan relationship has fallen to a dangerous low following the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, U.S. President Barack Obama said in unprecedentedly candid remarks that he thought that “there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan”.
Skirting the question of which specific agencies or individuals might have knowingly harboured the suspected terrorist for many years, he said, “We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”
In a relatively rare break from the general tenor of official comments, Mr. Obama also spoke of the geo-political sensitivities involved in an operation that entailed covert action in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Noting that there would have been “significant consequences,” had bin Laden not been identified by the CIA at the compound, Mr. Obama said, “Obviously, we're going into the sovereign territory of another country and landing helicopters and conducting a military operation. If it turns out that it's a wealthy... prince from Dubai who's in this compound, and... we've sent Special Forces in — we've got problems.”
Discussing the links between Pakistan and terrorism in the interview, Mr. Obama was however careful to avoid implying that the ISI or any military establishment organisation was responsible for harbouring bin Laden.
White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon also drew the focus of debate to counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan, when he said in another interview over the weekend, “We have had difficulty with Pakistan, as I said, but we've also had to work very closely with Pakistan in our counter-terror efforts.”
While Mr. Donilon noted that more terrorists and extremists had been captured or killed in Pakistan than in any place in the world, Mr. Obama hinted that the flip side of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was that a degree of mutual resentment may persist.
He said, “[Continuing counterterrorism cooperation] doesn't mean that there aren't going to be times where we're going be frustrated with Pakistanis. And frankly, there are going be times where they're frustrated with us.”
He added that there were not only individual terrorists in Pakistan but “also a climate inside of Pakistan that sometimes is deeply anti-American. And it makes it more difficult for us to be able to operate there effectively.”