How do you see the relationship between the US and Pakistan changing?
This [killing of Osama bin Laden] is clearly a deal between the US and Pakistan. What we don’t know are the terms of the deal. And until we know the terms of the deal, we will not be able to make any kind of evaluation of what has happened and a forecast of what will happen, both in terms of a bilateral relationship between the US and Pakistan and also in terms of its wider implications for South Asia, particularly India and Afghanistan. I am not sure whether we will ever know the terms of the deal. This may remain one of the best-guarded secrets in geopolitics.
America got bin Laden and it is vacating Afghanistan slowly. Does it need Pakistan at all now?
Pakistan has been a close ally of the US since the 1950s and at that time there was no al-Qaeda and no Osama bin Laden. In fact, Osama bin Laden was a product of the US-Pakistan relationship and not the other way around. The death of bin Laden may have a certain impact on the US-Pakistan relationship but it doesn’t take away the fundamentals that have built this relationship since the 1950s.
The US-Pakistan relationship has been strained recently. How do you see it now?
The point is that their relationship has been very close. Despite the cordiality, there has always been a strain. Both cordiality and strain are contradictory but consistent characteristics of the US-Pakistan relationship. I wouldn’t take the recent strain very seriously.
Bin Laden was found in a house which is a kilometre from the [Kakul] Pakistan military academy. This has been described by various experts as the equivalent of Sandhurst and West Point which are the leading military academies in the UK and US. It was a house which was very noticeable. It was a house with high walls, barbed wires and no Internet or telephone connection. So a large haveli which is being covered in this way and which has got security guards would be very conspicuous.
The circumstantial evidence shows that the Pakistan government, particularly the Pakistani military, was aware of the precise whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Whether they have arranged his stay there is something we don’t know. And it is quite possible that if they have been aware, they have played some role in his protection. And the decision to kill Osama bin Laden was a political decision taken by Pakistan after being aware of his existence for several years. It’s also likely that the safe house was provided to him so close to the military academy precisely for protection, so that no one would come and attack him there.
What price will Pakistan extract from the US for this decision?
That is something we don’t know. Pakistan has two main strategic concerns: India and Afghanistan. And obviously, any Pakistani ruler who tries to extract a price will do it with regards to India and Afghanistan. With regards to Afghanistan, it’s a lot clearer. This incident provides a justification for the US to reduce its military presence and also advise NATO to do the same. Once their presence is reduced, it would be very easy for Pakistani military to deploy its stooges, whether they are the Taliban or any other forces, in Kabul. Basically, Pakistan would get a much greater say in the Afghan power structure. The US may not withdraw from Afghanistan completely because it has a lot of strategic value but it will withdraw substantially. But once the US leaves, Pakistan will get a certain degree of control in Kabul and that gives it a strategic edge against India. And that could be a deal that doesn’t have to hurt India directly. [But it will hurt us indirectly].
Pakistan’s second security concern is India. The US could pressure India for talks on something like Kashmir. We don’t know for sure.
What’s the future of al-Qaeda and the Taliban?