This commentary explores whether the U.S. paid any money to Pakistan for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. As the graph demonstrates, the U.S. paid over $500 million to Pakistan as counter-terrorism funds in 2011, the year Bin Laden was murdered in Abbottabad, a small city located 75 miles north of Islamabad. This amount stands out on the chart as compared to the counter-terrorism funds paid to Pakistan before and after 2011. The chart furnishes an intriguing indicator that something special was cooking in the enhanced partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009
On assuming the presidency in 2009, Barack Obama refocused on the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and agreed to draw in Pakistan more strongly to defeat the Al Qaeda operatives mounting fierce opposition to the U.S. occupying forces, a venture known as the AfPak policy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the joint leadership of Senators Kerry and Lugar had proposed a significant increase in aid to Pakistan as a quid pro quo for measurable results to root out terrorism in the AfPak region.
In October 2009, Congress passed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (The Act). The Act defines counterterrorism “as efforts to defeat al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations … or other individuals engaged in terrorist activity.” The Act recognizes that Pakistan “has been a valuable partner in the battle against al Qaeda … but much more needs to be accomplished.” The Act further notes: “Despite killing and capturing hundreds of al Qaeda operatives, such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad,” Pakistan remains a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorists.
The Act promises assistance in various fields and for various purposes. Assistance for each purpose is categorized and separated. For example, the monies allocated for health, girls’ education, civil liberties, and other democratic, economic, and development purposes are separated from monies allocated for counterterrorism. Furthermore, counterterrorism is distinguished from counterinsurgency, a militant phenomenon attempting to overthrow the government and institutions of Pakistan. Accordingly, the security-related assistance provided for counterinsurgency must not be confused with the monies allocated for counterterrorism.
Therefore, under the Act’s classification logic, $500 million for 2011 were allocated exclusively for counterterrorism purposes, such as capturing and killing of al Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden. We do not know how much money the U.S. spent in launching the operation carried out by the CIA and the Navy SEALs. The $500 million were disbursed to the government of Pakistan and this money should not be confused with the money that the U.S. spent in planning and executing the assassination operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear.
Likewise, the $500 million for 2011 must not be confused with the other assistance provided for the suppression of counterinsurgency and for the displaced residents of Swat and other tribal areas. The successful Swat operation was conducted in May 2009, exactly two years before the May 2011 murder of Bin Laden. Furthermore, the Swat operation falls under the Act’s definition of counterinsurgency, and not counterterrorism, because the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was striving to overthrow the control of Islamabad and establish its own writ in the area.
Questionable Spike in the Chart
As a legal professional, I understand that this commentary does not provide proof beyond reasonable doubt (a criminal law standard) or even with the preponderance of the evidence (a civil law standard) that $500 million were disbursed to Pakistan for facilitating the assassination of Bin Laden. The proof turns even more questionable because the Operation Neptune Spear was supposedly a secret operation conducted to the complete surprise of Pakistan armed forces and the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari. There was no reason to bless Pakistan with $500 million if Pakistan delivered no help in the operation.
There are many possible (though not probable) reasons to explain the 2011 spike in the chart. Might be, the spike is simply a typographical error or a data provider’s mistake. Might be, there is a reason other than assassination for the extraordinary amount of counterterrorism money given to Pakistan in 2011. Might be, the 2011 counterterrorism money was planned but not actually spent. There are several other mightbes.
Unless explained otherwise, the chart is eerie. It’s telling. It raises suspicion. It reveals a secret, as money trails do. As a legal professional, I ponder over the spike in the chart. I sit back and see it over and over again. My legal instincts are vexed and I wonder why such a hefty bag of counterterrorism money has not been donated to Pakistan either before or after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.