Osama Bin Laden’s Wives Could Be the Key to Punishing Pakistan For Their ‘Double Game’


American officials have had it up to here with the “double game” Pakistan is playing, benefiting from billions of dollars in U.S. aid while also likely harboring the terrorists we’re hunting. President Barack Obama said Sunday on 60 Minutes, “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for Bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” and American advisers want to start with Osama Bin Laden’s three wives, now in Pakistani custody, and the “additional materials” taken from the Abbottabad compound where Bin Laden was killed. “Our guess is that the wives knew just who was keeping Bin Laden alive for all these years,” one official told the New York Times.

One of Bin Laden’s wives was shot in the leg during the raid, but Pakistan “has said nothing about allowing interviews of the wives, who were among the handful of survivors of the raid”:

Pakistan has said it will conduct its own investigation, but American officials doubt it will be credible. For more than two years Pakistan has slow-walked investigations into the 2008 siege in Mumbai, India, by a terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that is believed to have strong links to portions of the Pakistani intelligence apparatus. To the distress of Pakistani officials, a trial scheduled to start soon in Chicago is expected to reveal evidence about the role in that attack of an officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s main military intelligence agency.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN that the U.S. will indeed be given access to the wives for questioning, though he did not specify a timeline.

The New Yorker has more on the “double game,” noting that, “Pakistan’s economy is now almost entirely dependent on American taxpayers.” And unfortunately, the U.S. seems stuck in that arrangement:

Many foreign-policy experts maintain that America cannot, at this juncture, cut off military aid to Pakistan–even if elements of the I.S.I. turn out to have harbored bin Laden. There are two prongs to this argument. One is that America needs Pakistan’s support in order to defeat the Taliban. If the U.S. withdraws aid, it is argued, Pakistan might insist that we can no longer fly drones over tribal areas. But Pakistan has covertly supported the drone program for years, in return for the U.S.’s targeting of Taliban forces that it cannot vanquish on its own. Without U.S. aid, the Pakistani military will need drone assistance more than ever.

The more pressing concern is that radical Islamists will somehow get their hands on a nuclear bomb, either through covert means or by actually coming to power. “The military is playing on this fear,” a Pakistani reporter, Pir Zubair Shah, told me.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani newspaper and TV station potentially published the name of the United States’ CIA station chief in Islamabad, a “critical and sensitive” assignment that oversees Al Qaeda-targeting drone strikes. Releasing this operative’s name to the local media might have been Pakistan’s “‘own little way of retaliating,’ given how ‘very, very upset and embarrassed’ the government remains over the raid and its aftermath.”

This post was originally published on May 9, 2011, at 9:20 a.m. ET.