Osama bin Laden's death changes the political geography of the region around Pakistan and requires a fundamental rethinking of U.S. policy and interests.
The evidence is mounting that Pakistan was complicit in sheltering bin Laden. He was, in large part, Pakistan's meal-ticket to billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Islamabad has been doing just enough to keep the money flowing but not enough to kill the golden goose. This is no longer tenable.
Did Pakistan ever seriously intend to stop al Qaeda and the Taliban from using its territory as a sanctuary?
If U.S. policymakers determine that the answer is no, efforts to foster a viable regime in Kabul or "win" the war in any other sense of the word could be seriously undermined. Moreover, such a determination would mean that the principal rationale for going into Afghanistan — to keep it from becoming an al-Qaeda base — is no longer salient, because Pakistan has been, and is, its base.
The death of bin Laden is understandably prompting a reexamination of America's engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan from all angles. At a time of fiscal stringency, Congress will cast a particularly sharp eye on the Afghan war's $100 billion-plus annual cost.
What's needed is an international conference of all the regional players that have a greater stake in the outcome of the Afghan/Pakistan conflict than does the United States. The participants should include China, Russia and India, and the goal should be a deal that will stabilize the region and provide leeway for whatever rate of withdrawal of U.S. forces the Obama administration determines is prudent.
David Aaron is senior fellow at the RAND Corp.; former ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and former deputy national security adviser
This commentary originally appeared in The Washington Post on May 3, 2011. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.