Foreign Policy Blogs

Sovereignty Theatrics?

Juan Cole writes:

Those who are unnecessarily worrying that Obama’s raid was lawless or set a precedent can rest easy; the only precedent is not military, but rather for back-room deals among governments who then put on public Kabuki plays.

His statement was responding to the Guardian article from earlier this week, which reported that, according to anonymous U.S. and Pakistani sources, Bush and Musharraf made a deal ten years ago that would allow the United States to execute a raid exactly of the type it puled off in Abbottabad.

Here are a couple things to consider.  First, the Guardian article leaves it unclear whether the deal is still in place.  The article does say this:

A senior Pakistani official said it had been struck under Musharraf and renewed by the army during the “transition to democracy” – a six-month period from February 2008 when Musharraf was still president but a civilian government had been elected.

The article also notes this:

The agreement is consistent with Pakistan’s unspoken policy towards CIA drone strikes in the tribal belt, which was revealed by the WikiLeaks US embassy cables last November. In August 2008, Gilani reportedly told a US official: “I don’t care if they do it, as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”

But as far as I can see, neither of these things amounts to confirmation that the deal still stands.  Furthermore, as I’ve written previously, Pakistan has demanded that the United States halt its drone program.

Also, for whatever its worth, Musharaff’s spokesman called the Guardian report “baseless.”  He continued: “If there is any such agreement, the Pakistan government should place it in the Parliament, and if there was any agreement, the American government should make it public…”

While the exact nature and status of the deal, if there ever was one, is unclear, the political effects of the bin Laden operation remain: domestic political backlash in Pakistan and people around the world calling for similar targeted killings of their enemies.  Meanwhile, the fact that bin Laden seems to have been sheltered by at least some elements in the Pakistani military has caused some Americans to call for a reevaluation of its foreign aid to Pakistan.  The talk about sovereignty is theatrics perhaps, but tensions rise nonetheless.