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Amid Bin Laden Inquiries, How Can U.S., Pakistan Rebuild Relations?

May 5, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
After a U.S. raid killed Osama bin Laden, questions are being raised about what Pakistan knew about the al-Qaida leader's location. Judy Woodruff examines how his discovery will impact U.S.-Pakistani relations with Shuja Nawaz, who has written frequently on Pakistan's military, and former CIA station chief Robert Grenier.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, for more on the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and what this means, we turn to Shuja Nawaz, who has written frequently on the Pakistan military. He is now at the Atlantic Council. And Robert Grenier, he’s a former CIA station chief in Pakistan. He is now a financial adviser to security companies.

And, gentlemen, we thank you both for being here.

Shuja Nawaz to you first.

In addition to the people we just heard in the Bill Neely report, we know that The Wall Street Journal today quoting U.S. and European officials saying they have no doubt that bin Laden was protected by some in the Pakistani intelligence infrastructure. We have Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying the same thing.

So, what is the truth?

SHUJA NAWAZ, The Atlantic Council: We won’t know the truth until we get the hard evidence — and I think it may come out from the materials collected from the compound where bin Laden was killed — or unless the Pakistani authorities come forward with what they can find on who, if anyone, was involved in protecting him or hiding him in Abbottabad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I apologize. I misspoke — Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But — but are you saying you’re — it’s truly up in the air?

SHUJA NAWAZ: It’s possible, but how it could stay secret through changes of personnel at the ISI, through changes of government is a great mystery, given that Pakistan has failed to protect many other secrets of this kind in the past.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it — it sounds like you’re skeptical.

SHUJA NAWAZ: I would wait to see the evidence, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Grenier, what about you? How do you read this? What do you think is the truth?

ROBERT GRENIER, former CIA official: I think, at this point, it’s — it’s almost too early to speculate.

If I had to bet right now, I certainly don’t think that the intelligence services or the Pakistani army were complicit right from the outset. I don’t think that they intercepted bin Laden, for instance, after he escaped from Tora Bora in 2001 and gave him aid and succor all during that period of time. I find that literally impossible to believe.

However, if at some point along the way, they might have discovered his whereabouts, or if, say, more recently, they discovered his whereabouts in that compound in Abbottabad, is it possible that they could have decided that this would just be too difficult for them to handle, that the domestic political consequences of taking him and turning him over to the Americans would simply be too great, and therefore, that they should turn a blind eye and let a sleeping dog lie?

I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another part of this that is remarkable, Shuja Nawaz, there’s a report quoting the Pakistani chief of army staff, Gen. Kayani, in Abbottabad one week before the bin Laden raid. And he’s quoted as saying that Pakistani security forces have, in his words, “broken the back of the terrorists and will soon prevail over the menace.”

SHUJA NAWAZ: He was referring very specifically to the Pakistani Taliban.

And to a large extent, what he was saying is absolutely true. They did break the back of the TTP, Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan. But he wasn’t referring certainly to the entire spectrum of terrorists that are inside Pakistan, including the Punjabi Taliban or the Afghan Taliban that use Pakistan as a sanctuary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you put together, Robert Grenier, the skepticism, not only of U.S., European — European unnamed officials, but you have senators now on the record, Sen. Levin on the Armed Services Committee — we had two other senators this week on the program from the Intelligence Committee expressing skepticism.

Is U.S. aid to Pakistan in jeopardy now, do you think?

ROBERT GRENIER: I don’t think there’s any question but that it is in jeopardy. And we know that there has been resistance from the Pakistani side toward having strict measures of accountability to see how this money was being spent.

And, if anything — and the Pakistanis have chafed at that. And I think, if anything, those requirements of stricter accountability are going to increase over time, and I think that the U.S. side is going to become far more intrusive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that — is it in doubt that this aid is going to continue at the level…

SHUJA NAWAZ: I think it will come under increasing scrutiny, and rightly so, because Congress will want accountability.

But the fact that it is not being favored by the administration, and the fact that even the Pakistani response to the charges against them today from the core commanders meeting — the military statement talks about any future raid, and the consequences of which might be disastrous, in the words of the foreign secretary — means that the Pakistanis really haven’t reacted as badly as they could have, which is, they could have stopped the flow of material into Afghanistan.

That’s a good sign. I also feel that it’s an opportunity to engage with Pakistan and to finally…

JUDY WOODRUFF: For the United States?  

SHUJA NAWAZ: For the United States to engage with them and to finally agree on some broad objectives and then see how they can rebuild this confidence, which has obviously been shattered with this recent incident.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What — what has to happen for things to get back on track? Or can they get back on track?

SHUJA NAWAZ: They can get back on track. I think Pakistan’s civilian government has to play a role in this.

This is not something that should be left to policy-making by the military alone. It was unfortunate that the prime minister of the country called the death of bin Laden a great victory and then got on a plane and went off to France, instead of convening a high-level security meeting and looking at what new strategy Pakistan needed to adopt, leaving it to the military to give the policy response many days later.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Grenier, how do you see the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations right now and what — assuming it is in some trouble, how do you see it getting back on track?

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, it seems as though we’re going from crisis to crisis at this point. And it seems to me that the only fundamental way to get this relationship back on track is to get — is to look beneath the surface of what is currently upsetting individuals on both sides, to look at the underlying policies.

There are aspects of Pakistani policy, both domestic and foreign, where they’re clearly not on the same page with the Americans. Now, I’m not sure that we will ever get to a point where policy on both sides completely converges, but at this point they are highly divergent.

And both sides really need to get back on the same page, both in terms of U.S. aid to a very clear Pakistani policy to deal with extremists on its own territory, and also, particularly in the Afghan context, to get both sides working together toward a common objective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does one side have more of a burden in this relationship than the other to get things straight, to get things back on track?

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, I’m not sure it’s useful to even think about it quite that way.

Pakistan has very clear national interests in Afghanistan. We have clear national interests. I think that the United States has not done enough to bring the Pakistanis into confidence and to reassure them that their interests will also be taken into account. And, of course, the obverse is true as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Shuja Nawaz, I wanted to ask you about the role of the U.S. in getting this relationship on a more even keel, but at the same time, this news from the Pakistan Defense Ministry today, the announcement that they are going to reduce the U.S. personnel in Pakistan, even when those personnel were not involved in this particular raid on bin Laden.

SHUJA NAWAZ: I think this is a carry-on from the earlier statement after the drone attack of March this year, when the military threatened to start cutting back on the U.S. presence.

There was great concern that many intelligence assets were being placed inside Pakistan under the guise of military assistance. So, I see that really in that context.

I think that the United States still has an opportunity. But, in the end, as Robert was saying, it’s in Pakistan’s own interest to end the ambiguous relationships that it has with the Afghan Taliban and with some of the Punjabi Taliban group, because you cannot differentiate between terrorists.

It’s very critical for Pakistan to decide that it has to remove terrorism from inside Pakistan. Then, it and the U.S. will be on the same page.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we are going to have to leave it there.

Shuja Nawaz, Robert Grenier, gentlemen, we thank you both. Thank you.