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Time to tell Pakistan: Game over

The search for Osama bin Laden lasted more than 10 years, through three U.S. presidencies. Under President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s, our intelligence agencies began their relentless pursuit of bin Laden. The death of almost 3,000 innocent men, women and children on Sept. 11, 2001, intensified that search. And building upon that effort, last week a team of superbly trained and equipped U.S. Navy SEALs executed a jaw-dropping raid into Pakistan that resulted in bin Laden's death.

So how can we put bin Laden's death in context?

It seems very likely that President George W. Bush's willingness to impose harsh conditions on al-Qaida detainees led to critically important intelligence in locating bin Laden. I don't support water boarding — but just as I wouldn't have supported Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, neither president's actions will keep me awake at night. Each faced a unique challenge and acted within the dictates of his conscience for the ultimate good of the American people. As was demonstrated so well by President Barack Obama last week, war requires tough leadership. Which brings me to Pakistan.

For many years, the elites of Pakistan's leadership have been playing a "double game" — giving just enough support to the U.S. to plausibly claim an allied relationship, while often acting in direct conflict with vital U.S. interests. Hypocrisy on their part has risen to an art form.

Pakistani civilian and military leaders now profess to be shocked, yes shocked, that Osama bin Laden was found in a suburb full of military retirees, less than a mile from Pakistan's military academy and just 40 miles from its capital, Islamabad. Well, they shouldn't be shocked — and in truth, they're not.

Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, has long provided aid and comfort to the Haqqani network of insurgents in Afghanistan. That relationship goes back to the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It reflects an enduring theme in Pakistan's foreign policy: the treatment of Afghanistan as a disposable pawn in Pakistan's historic rivalry with India.

The Pakistani leadership was also apparently "shocked" when it was confronted with proof that A.Q. Khan, a well-known Pakistani scientist, had transferred (for profit) core nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea — but once confronted, it was not very shocking that they treated Mr. Khan as a national hero, put him under house arrest, and released him after an appallingly short sentence. Then-President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Mr. Kahn in 2004.

And in early October 2010, following a clash along the Afghan border, Pakistan blocked truck convoys in the Khyber Pass for nearly a week to demonstrate its displeasure — again, I believe they were not so "shocked" when many of the convoy trucks, carrying U.S. military supplies, were attacked and burned by Taliban insurgents.

With an ally like Pakistan, who needs enemies?

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has provided Pakistan with more than $18 billion in foreign aid, most of it intended to ensure Pakistan's cooperation in our continuing conflict with al-Qaida and the Taliban. As an incentive for such support, our aid to Pakistan has been a profound failure. The magnitude of that failure was placed in stark relief by the events in Abbottabad last week.

In my judgment, all U.S. aid to Pakistan should be suspended immediately. And the House and Senate foreign relations committees should conduct comprehensive hearings into our diplomatic and military relationship with Pakistan. Is there danger in taking such an aggressive approach? Yes. But there needs to be a fundamental rebalancing in the relationship — and a light touch won't do it.

The U.S. has many true friends in Pakistan. Any reexamination of the relationship between our two countries should emphasize the strategic goal of restoring trust and confidence, based upon our nations' shared democratic ideals and interests. But to be of any value, the friendship between the U.S. and Pakistan must be consistent and real.

The message from President Obama to Pakistan should be blunt: Game over.

Paul McHale, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, was assistant secretary of defense from 2003-2009, a Marine colonel who was a senior adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2007, and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania from 1993-1999. This article originally appeared in the Allentown Morning Call.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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