The covers of our newspapers are emblazoned with Bin Laden this morning — but it is an article in a US newspaper that really catches the eye. Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, has written an op-ed for the Washington Post that defends his country's role in the struggle against Al-Qaeda. It's a defence that has four components. 1) Sympathy: "Pakistan … joins the other targets of al-Qaeda in our satisfaction that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced." 2) Credit-sharing: "We in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day." 3) Defiance: "Pakistan has paid an enormous price for its stand against terrorism. More of our soldiers have died than all of NATO’s casualties combined." 4) Reassurance: "We can become everything that al-Qaeda and the Taliban most fear — a vision of a modern Islamic future." They all add up to an impassioned, insistent whole.
But Zardari does not really mention, let alone answer, the most pressing question of all: just how was Bin Laden able to set up a des res in a military town only a short car journey away from Islamabad? The closest he comes to it is the laughable aside, "He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be." But until he can explain why that was so, or at least give a better excuse, you suspect that relations between the West and the Pakistani state will continue in a fug of mistrust and suspicion. And that will, of course, have repercussions for the ongoing effort in Afghanistan, as well as for the fragile political balance in the region.
In any case, it's a good time to (re-)read the article that Ahmed Rashid wrote for The Spectator last year on the splits and rivalries with Pakistan's government. The simple fact is that Zardari may be President, but he may not be in charge. On Rashid's account, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani — the head of the army, and former chief of Pakistani intelligence — is now "the most powerful man in Pakistan." It was Kiyani who was cited in Wikileaks files as providing "overt or tacit support" for militant groups in Pakistan. And it is Kiyani, now, who may know the answers to some of the West's questions — or at least better than Zardari does.