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A U.S. Break With Pakistan? Forget About It

A lot of nonsense is going around in the wake of the bin Laden killing. Some of it is coming from Islamabad and some from Washington.

The part from the Pakistani capital involves high-level denials that anyone in the government there had any idea that bin Laden lived for years on and off in the compound in Abbottabad where he was killed by American Seals last weekend.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari declared in a Washington Post column Monday that although the death of bin Laden was the result of "a decade of partnership" between our two countries, bin Laden "was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be." And Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani blames U.S. and other intelligence agencies worldwide, along with Pakistan's, for failure to find the location earlier since "we have intelligence sharing." Maybe the top civilians didn't know. Right now the U.S. is giving them the benefit of the doubt, saying they showed "genuine surprise."

But folks in Pak military and intelligence just had to know. Ordinary Pakistanis are sure of that. Most neighbors found it "unfathomable" that bin Laden could have lived amid them, on property that's part of a military cantonment, a mile or so from Pakistan's West Point, near the homes of top-level generals, without being known to authorities. "He cannot," one neighbor told the Post. "He would be noticed very easily." Unofficial sources in Pakistan say it's inconceivable that the authorities wouldn't keep a frequent check on everybody in such a militarily-filled neighborhood.

So much for the nonsense in Islamabad. The nonsense in Washington centers around the notion that Pakistan's failure to inform the U.S. of bin Laden's whereabouts is going to cause a final breach in American-Pakistani relations. Yes, there is talk in Congress of cutting or stopping U.S. aid to Pakistan, which some sources' estimate at more than $4 billion. But even those like senators John Kerry and Dianne Feinstein who want to call Pakistan to account are careful to say we must be careful not to go too far.

That's because the U.S. is far more dependent on Pakistan than Pakistan is on us. Supplies for the more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan have got to be landed at the port of Karachi and trucked through Pakistan and across the border. So as long as this country is heavily involved in Afghanistan -- and although bin Laden's death may make that time shorter, any significant drawdown of the U.S. military is far from imminent -- this country cannot seriously threaten, much less break, its alliance with the Pakistanis, whatever their sins.

Beyond Afghanistan, there's at least one more important reason for U.S. involvement in the area. The U.S. is rightly concerned about the instability of Pakistan itself, a nation of weak civilian rule, a powerful military that drifts in and out of power every few years and that, along with the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, is obsessed with fear of another war with India -- this time with both nations possessing nuclear weapons. The American troop presence nearby might provide some restraint against such a nuclear catastrophe -- or help insure Pakistan's Islamic bomb is not stolen by Pakistan's home-grown jihadists or other terrorists.

So although we can expect shouts, threats, complaints, investigations and hearings on both sides, I don't think bin Laden's and his followers' years of refuge in Pakistan, or continued American violations of Pakistani sovereignty, will change U.S.-Pakistani relations very much. We need them. And they need us. And that's the way it is.

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