This duplicity helped keep the West sufficiently interested in the myth of "engaging the elite" -- because of course engaging the people would mean courting savagery. It also helped keep the Pakistani people sufficiently hostile toward any notion of understanding or appreciating the West's genuine and legitimate concerns and interests in Pakistan. But with time, this delicate waltz has grown harder and harder to sustain. The Pakistani military, for all its swagger, has either forgotten all the steps, or never knew them to begin with.
The notion that one fine day bin Laden adorned a burqa and made a trip over perhaps the most treacherous 180 miles of terrain in the world, from Tora Bora to Abbottabad, without catching the attention of Pakistan's vast, richly endowed, and unaccountable military establishment is as ridiculous as any conspiracy theories now being peddled by Pakistan's incorrigible right-wing hacks -- with the most common version simply refusing to believe that he is dead.
It is even less likely that, as U.S. counterterrorism czar John Brennan claimed in a press conference today, Pakistani authorities did not know about the military operation that killed bin Laden until it was over. Abbottabad's Bilal Town neighborhood where bin Laden lived and died was virtually around the corner from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul -- Pakistan's West Point, where future General Kayanis and General Pashas are learning to be officers. It doesn't take 40 minutes to start to scramble planes, or get troops to Abbottabad, and there is no getting into the town by land or air without the expressed consent of Pakistan's security establishment. This may not have been an official joint operation, but it was almost certainly a collective effort.
Maintaining these two fictions requires a great deal of creativity from both parties involved. In the first instance, Pakistan has to lie to enable the U.S. government to avoid looking like a first-timer in Las Vegas, getting hustled by a pro. In the second, the United States has to lie, to avoid implicating its chief partner in the dishonoring of Pakistani pride and the violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
On Indian television, the veteran U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner poignantly noted that the United States has to delicately negotiate "ambiguity" in its relationship with Pakistan. The problem for Pakistan is that it must also negotiate this ambiguity with itself. For a country that can't pay its bills, or even manage its borders, this is a deeply ambitious order. Americans should not hold their breath for any dramatic changes in the short term in Pakistan.