Jamsheed Marker, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, divides his time between Florida, where he has a home in St. Petersburg and has taught at Eckerd College, and Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. Marker was in Pakistan when word broke that U.S. commandos had killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. He discussed Pakistani reaction to bin Laden's death in a phone interview with Senior Correspondent Susan Taylor Martin.
What did people think when they heard the news?
Everybody was taken by surprise and, I suppose, shocked that it happened in Pakistan. There's great resentment about his burial at sea. That's completely un-Islamic, it's against all tenets of Islam. It's been taken very badly.
Were people surprised that four big U.S. helicopters could fly into Pakistan without detection?
Newspaper and television commentaries have been full of that. If that was the case, how safe are our nuclear facilities? It raised a lot of questions.
Most Americans think that at least some Pakistani officials must have known bin Laden was living in Pakistan, especially since he was in a city with a military academy and many retired army officers. What do Pakistanis think?
Very few people I've talked to believe that somebody didn't know about it. But there are large houses in that area, and there are out-of-towners that have built them and live there. That some stranger was living there was not unusual. People move around freely, it's not a police state, there's no one following you around or anything like that.
This has been a huge embarrassment to the Pakistani government. Is there a lot of anger directed at President Zardari ?
It's mostly directed toward the United States, that this is a breach of sovereignty, that the Americans are free to do acts in this country as they wish. This comes shortly after that CIA guy (who killed two Pakistanis) was released. Not to mention the (U.S.) drone strikes, which are a constant source of complaint and anger. A lot of people get killed in those. Maybe you hit one targeted person but quite often there's a lot of collateral damage that kills women and children so that very often the targeted person you kill probably is the source for five jihadis who join.
Do you think Pakistan deserves more credit than it gets for helping root out al-Qaida?
The number of Pakistani soldiers who have been killed in this war against terror is tremendous, and there are more Pakistani troops deployed in the frontier regions than there are NATO troops in the whole of Afghanistan. These facts are generally not known (to Americans). Pakistanis feel we're doing so much. And don't forget all the top guys in al-Qaida who have been caught in Pakistan and turned over. The guy who carried out 9/11, the guy who slit Daniel Pearl's throat — so many others, all have been arrested here and handed over.
How would you characterize U.S.-Pakistan relations?
Pakistanis resent the Americans anyway, and I've never known relations between the U.S. and Pakistan to be as bad as they are right now.
What about pressure to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan, which has totaled more than $18 billion since 9/11?
It would be a disaster for both sides. In the first place, a stable Pakistan is in everybody's interest. Cutting off aid will increase instability and it's a poor country that can't afford further economic problems. The government could easily fall. Not that many people like this government, because it hasn't produced results, it's in many ways dysfunctional, but if it fell, there would be a breakdown in law and order.
That would disastrous and would compel the army to move in and nobody wants that, including the army.
Many in America have accused Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, of playing a double game — helping the United States while also helping the Taliban. Is it?
There could be some legitimacy to that charge. These two were formed to throw the Russians out of Afghanistan. There are still some lingering connections between people who worked together and fought together. There certainly is no official support but at lower levels there may be some.
Remember, this has happened before. The Americans left (Afghanistan), and Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces. It therefore has to take care of its own strategic interests. The feeling is, Pakistan has a legitimate interest in what's going on in Afghanistan, and I don't think any settlement in Afghanistan is possible without the cooperation of Pakistan.
In January, a security guard assassinated the governor of Punjab, who opposed a law making it punishable by death to speak negatively about Islam. Is Islamic extremism growing?
There's a lot of opposition to it but there's no doubt that there's much more fundamentalism in Pakistan now. It's kind of a creeping thing and there are events that give it a spur. I think what happened with Osama bin Laden certainly increases those sentiments for the reasons I gave — the feeling that the Americans can just come into the country and do what they like.
What does the growth of fundamentalism mean for the future of Pakistan, which is one of the world's poorest, most populous countries?
It's a good question and a hard one to answer. One of the things that I think will prevent it would be if economic conditions get better, but otherwise it's going to be difficult.
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.