In a visit to Pakistan today to reset strained U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that the U.S. has no evidence that any senior Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was hiding in the country. But, according a New York Times report this morning, U.S. officials have uncovered evidence that bin Laden considered cutting a deal with those very Pakistani officials shortly before Navy SEALs killed him.
Messages between the al-Qaeda leader and his top operations chief--seized from bin Laden's Abbotobad compound--discuss a deal in which al-Qaeda would cease attacks in Pakistan if Pakistani authorities protected bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders, though U.S. officials stress there's no indication that bin Laden's aides brought the idea to Pakistani military or intelligence operatives. The revelation, moreover, can be interpreted in two very different ways. The documents, The Times explains, suggest, for the first time, that "bin Laden considered Pakistan's government amenable to a bargain." Yet, as The Times adds, Pakistan can point to the messages as proof that Pakistani authorities were not secretly supporting bin Laden.
On Friday, Clinton said, vaguely, that Pakistani officials had told her that "someone, somewhere" provided support for bin Laden in Pakistan, and called on Pakistan to take "decisive steps" against Islamic militancy. There are signs that the relationship between Washington and Islamabad is getting worse--Pakistan recently asked the U.S. to reduce the number of military trainers in the country, for example--but there are also flickers of renewed cooperation. The Pakistani authorities have decided to permit a CIA forensic team to pore over bin Laden's compound, searching for information hidden in walls or under floors, according to Reuters.