Pakistan’s army broke its silence Thursday over the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, acknowledging its own “shortcomings” in efforts to find the al-Qaeda leader but threatening to review cooperation with Washington if there is another similar violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
The tough-sounding statement was a sign of the anger in the army. It also appeared aimed at appeasing politicians, the public and the media in the country over what’s viewed by many here as a national humiliation delivered by a deeply unpopular America.
While international concerns are centered on suspicions that elements of the security forces sheltered bin Laden, most Pakistanis seem more upset that uninvited American soldiers flew into the country, landed on the ground and launched an attack on a house and that the army was unaware and unable to stop them. That it happened in an army town, next door to a military academy and close to the capital has added to the embarrassment.
Ties between the two countries were already strained before the raid because of American allegations that Islamabad was failing to crack down on Afghan Taliban factions sheltering on Pakistani soil. Pakistan was angered over stepped-up U.S. drone strikes and the case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis in January.
While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington would continue engaging with Pakistan, the fallout from Monday’s raid has added a new layer of tensions to a relationship that is crucial to stabilizing Afghanistan and allowing American troops to begin withdrawing this year.
The U.S. needs Pakistan’s cooperation for, among other things, ferrying supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Washington has given the Pakistani army more than $10 billion in aid over the past decade to help it fight militants.
The tone of the army statement was in sharp contrast to the initial response to the raid by the country’s civilian leaders. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had hailed the operation as a “great victory” but made no mention of any concerns over sovereignty.