The daring raid on Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout has deeply embarrassed the Pakistani military and secret service ISI. American helicopters were able to fly in undetected, kill the world’s most wanted man and leave with his body. We might speculate about the consequences for Al Qaeda and the possible acceleration of withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Instead, I thought I would talk about the implication of the American attack on Pakistan.
First, if Navy Seals were able to fly in and steal Osama Bin Laden, might they be able to steal Pakistan’s nuclear materials? A much more difficult and perhaps impossible enterprise with weapons at different locations, some of them mobile. But the Abottabad adventure was highly improbable too. Therefore, one result of the death of OBL is that the Pakistanis will guard their nuclear weapons with more diligence. This is good for the rest of the world as it reduces the chances of a WMD falling into the hands of extremists. It is bad to the extent that the rest of the world (i.e. the US!) has plans to capture Pakistani WMDs in some emergency scenario.
Second, the Pakistani military does not come out of this incident looking good. Either they are incompetent, unknowingly allowing OBL to live in an army town, or they are complicit, deliberately harboring a terrorist where he might be least likely to be found. In either scenario, Pakistan might think that the American action emboldens India. India now has cover to adopt a more aggressive stance against Pakistan. This in turn implies that Pakistan might adopt a more aggressive stance itself to counteract any reputational fallout from its perceived ineptitude. Some kind of cross-border incident in Kashmir is an obvious move for Pakistan to engineer. There is some distance between Pakistani politicians and the military and some kind of “confidence-building” move by India might help to forestall any increase in tension. Such a move unfortunately is politically difficult given the huge suspicion of the Pakistani military and ISI following on the heels of the discovery of OBL living safely in Abottabad.