AMERICA’S killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2nd brought with it a rare chance to ease the Pakistani army’s unhealthy grip on the country’s domestic and foreign affairs. The generals have floundered since the raid in Abbottabad, unsettled by accusations of complicity with bin Laden or, if not, then incompetence. It has not helped that video clips show bin Laden apparently active as al-Qaeda’s leader in his last years. Pakistanis cannot agree what is more shocking, that bin Laden had skulked in a military town so close to the capital, Islamabad, or that Americans nipped in to kill him without meeting the least resistance. Either way, they know to blame the humiliated men in uniform. Columnists and bloggers even call for army bosses to fall on their swagger sticks. Ashfaq Kayani, the now sullen-faced head of the armed forces, and his more exposed underling, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who runs the main military spy outfit, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), are unused to such cheek. Their spokesmen have fumbled to come up with a consistent line. They have claimed both that Pakistan abhorred America’s attack and helped to bring it about. Army inaction on the night was because someone forgot to turn on the radar, or because it only worked pointing east at India. And General Pasha would, and then certainly would not, fly to America to smooth things over. That disarray gave elected leaders a chance. Neither President Asif Zardari nor Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, deludes himself that he is really in charge. Nor do outsiders. Just after they had killed bin Laden, the Americans first telephoned General Kayani, not the president. In the past year both Generals Kayani and Pasha have had their spells in office extended beyond their usual terms, without a squeak from the brow-beaten civilians. The armed forces scoop up roughly a quarter of all public spending and large dollops of aid, with no proper oversight, says Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst. They also run big firms, employ over 500 ,000 , grab prime land for retired officers, set foreign and counterterrorism policies and scotch peace overtures to India. They are racing to expand a nuclear arsenal beyond 100 warheads—Pakistan will soon be the world’s fifth-biggest nuclear power and has been a chief proliferator. Civilian silence thus spoke volumes. Rather than try to defend the army, both elected leaders found pressing needs to be out-of-town. Eventually, on May 9 th, Mr Gilani did tell parliament of the army’s fight against terrorists. He announced an inquiry into the bin Laden affair and said that, as ever, most problems were caused by America. Yet his careful vow of “full confidence in the high command” of the army and the ISI mostly emphasised their loss of prestige, as did a promise that on May 13 th General Kayani would explain to parliament what had gone wrong. The dismayed generals have sniped back. General Kayani told fellow officers that the civilian response had been “insufficient”. Public figures with army links, notably Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister, and Imran Khan, a former cricketer and rising conservative politician, said the president and prime minister should quit. Adding to the squeeze are the Americans. President Barack Obama talked again on May 8 th of bin Laden’s “support network” in Pakistan, a sign he has not yet ruled out ISI complicity. His officials sought (and reportedly got) access to three of bin Laden’s widows found in the Abbottabad compound. They also want to go back to the compound, to get back bits of a helicopter abandoned in the raid. Above all, they want the names of all the ISI men who worked on al-Qaeda. Pakistani security men say it is ridiculous to suspect any complicity: they are at war with al-Qaeda, have arrested 40 of its leaders, and suffered violent attacks, including on ISI offices and the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. But Americans point to a refusal to prepare a campaign against the Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda ally, in North Waziristan. They also note the ISI’s longstanding ties to the Afghan Taliban, including its leader, Mullah Omar, who is assumed to be operating out of Quetta in Baluchistan. Perhaps American special forces will now go after him. As it is, despite strenuous efforts by America’s chief-of-staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, relations have been strained for ages. Ordinary Pakistanis have long resented American drone attacks on Afghan insurgents sheltering in their country. American and Pakistani spy agencies fell out last year as dozens of CIA men arrived without ISI oversight to hunt extremists in towns like Abbottabad. Relations only got worse in January, when police arrested a CIA contractor after he had shot two men dead in Lahore. The Americans remain bitter that normal diplomatic levers failed for weeks to free him. The row rumbles on. This week some media, presumably fed by the ISI, outed the CIA station chief in Islamabad by giving his name. The same happened five months ago to his predecessor. On May 16 th is another test, as a trial opens in Chicago of Tahawwur Rana, accused of helping a Pakistani terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, who struck Mumbai in November 2008. Among others indicted (though still at large) is a suspected ISI officer, “Major Iqbal”, who is accused of helping to plan and fund the attacks which killed 170. Generals Kayani and Pasha are struggling to calibrate their response. Both congratulated Marc Grossman, America’s regional envoy, for bin Laden’ s killing when they met a few hours after the raid. In public, by contrast, General Kayani growled that America was trampling on Pakistan and must reduce its “footprint”. Over military aid, they grumble that needed helicopters and fighter jets are held back. And to show that Pakistan has other options, Mr Gilani is to visit China, its “all- weather friend”, on May 17th (see article ). Relations with America can only get so bad, however. General Mahmud Ali Durrani, ambassador to Washington until 2008 , thinks the problem is that neither side speaks frankly. Rather than pretend that it will campaign in the wilds of North Waziristan, the Pakistani army should spell out how operationally hard that would be. And the Americans should set out the evidence for why they say the ISI collaborates with extremists. Although the bin Laden raid has rocked the relationship, few predict a full break in ties. Not only will America need to get precious supplies to Afghanistan, mainly via the Pakistani port of Karachi, for years to come, but it is wary of isolating or destabilising a country with such a fast-growing nuclear arsenal. In turn Pakistan, with a decrepit economy, needs international aid. And it frets at signs of America falling in with its old rival, India. So the two sides are stuck with each other. As a former foreign minister says, America has concluded that Pakistanis are rascals, but at least they are “still our rascals”.