LOS ANGELES -- The last time I saw Abbottabad, I was in a crowd of a couple of hundred men watching a dancing bear hopping up and down and then wrestling in the dust with the owner's son. The crowd enjoyed it and stayed for the end, the collecting of coins. There was not a lot of entertainment around there; people looked and stopped at anything out of the ordinary.
So, like all people, the folks there gossiped about most anything they noticed -- say, a million-dollar compound with 18-foot walls and opaque windows three times the size of anything else in what we would call a middle-class, maybe upper-middle-class, neighborhood. And, of course, Abbottabad has been a military town for more than a century. The name comes from a 19th-century British general who loved the place when he was commander of the British troops quartered in the cantonment there.
As in Kipling's time, the military and its intelligence services are the only viable institutions in Pakistan. Only the name has changed from British to Pakistani. The army has its own housing, roads, factories and schools. It is inconceivable that the army, which as I'm sure you have read, has its equivalent of West Point less than two miles away from the compound, did not know that Osama bin Laden was living down the road for at least five years.
Like Gen. Abbott, I love Pakistan. However, when we were living there in the 1980s, an hour or so away in Islamabad, in a fancy neighborhood called E-7, one of our neighbors was A.Q. Khan, who was picked up each day by military vehicles and taken to Kahuta, where he was in charge of the program that produced Pakistan's nuclear weaponry. Everyone knew that, including American diplomats, military liaisons and CIA agents.
But we were then, with significant help from the Pakistani government, fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. So we looked the other way at a lot of things -- at the time, we needed Pakistan.
Actually, the other way was what led us to our current Pakistani conundrum. The other way was India. All, or almost all, Pakistani military and diplomatic concerns are not about the United States or Afghanistan, but about India. Pakistan's nuclear missiles are pointed toward Delhi and Mumbai. Pakistan's actions can only be understood by its concern that a new Afghanistan -- probably a contradiction in terms -- will be friendly toward India. It is in Pakistan's interest that the Taliban prevail, or at least survive, in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is an odd product of colonial history or the denial of history. "The Land of the Pure," its name in English, was part of British India. But when the British cut and ran from the subcontinent in 1947, they created two countries, India (majority Hindu) and Pakistan (mostly Muslim). The latter was divided into two parts, a thousand miles from each other -- West and East Pakistan. East Pakistan revolted against West Pakistani oppression and, with Indian help, became a new country, Bangladesh.
Many important Pakistanis live in a world both paranoid and delusional when it comes to India. The power and prosperity of the two countries could be compared to Canada and the United States. Except, I would think, there are very few Canadians who believe that someday in some way they are going to take on and take over the United States.
A lot of crazy things are about to happen between Pakistan and the United States -- because we still need them as we try to figure out how to get out of Afghanistan. So we will let them lie about Osama's nest and the hiding places of others who war against America. Pakistan, once more looking the fool -- they knew Osama was there, or they are incompetent -- will be a little more forthcoming and helpful in battling Islamic terrorism.
But at the end of the day, in a very bad marriage of shifting convenience, we don't trust them and they don't trust us -- and we're both right.