It was nothing less than a slap in our face; the world’s most wanted person living under the shadow of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul. The news of the spectacular mid-night commando raid that got Osama bin Laden came thus as a shocking surprise to us all; that of all the places in Pakistan, OBL would be found enjoying life along with his wives and children holed up in a big fenced house surrounded by the scenic hills of the cantonment town Abbottabad is pretty mind-boggling as well as embarrassing. This also gives way to suspicions that the Pakistani security establishment, particularly the mighty ISI, or at least some elements within this organization, probably knew the whereabouts of the world’s most wanted person. Intelligence officials continue to vehemently deny any knowledge of OBL’s hide-out. Inconceivable! This denial, too, also offers a telling comment on the abilities of our intelligence outfits.
Bilal Colony, where OBL lived until the American special marines took him out after a dramatic raid and a brief shootout with his guard – all in 40 minutes- sits in the foot of hills on the outskirts of Abbottabad.
And residential hamlet is just about three kilometers off Kakul, raising thereby a fundamental question as to whether OBL could stay there by coincidence – a big compound well-guarded, apparently, by RPG-armed (rocket-propelled grenades) associates, who also shot down one of the US Apache helicopters during the blitz operation.
On the face of it, it is quite incomprehensible to imagine that OBL eluded the Pakistani security establishment purely on his own in a town that has a pretty elaborate intelligence network. The US intelligence operatives, so it seems, made remarkable strides in their hunt for the man responsible for so much violence in the Af-Pak region, including over 32,000 casualties in Pakistan itself. They, it seems, sprung a surprise on the Pakistani authorities by singling out the abode of OBL before attacking him.
However, if similar operations in the past, including the one that netted Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaida in 2003, were any indicator, it would appear logical for the US intelligence operatives to have kept the whereabouts of OBL close to their chest until a few minutes before the actual operation.
In all probability, President Asif Ali Zardari and Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani were taken on board shortly before the dramatic raid, and probably Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI; the history of mistrust between the ISI and the CIA suggests that the Americans trust the ISI probably the least, and also in this case probably would have informed Pasha and his ground operatives last of all.
Either way, it is a double jeopardy for Pakistan; if it had known the whereabouts of OBL, and agreed to finally cough up bin Laden, this will easily now draw international flak on for having “harbored the world’s most wanted person.”
And if the information came only from the Americans, and Pakistan was compelled into ground support for this operation based on “solid actionable intelligence”, this, too, amounts to huge embarrassment for a country that had most of the world believe that OBL does not live on the Pakistani soil.
On the other hand, domestically – the incident might mean more – even if limited – upheaval among OBL supporters who would probably term both the army as well as the civilian government as “betrayers” of their cause by providing the Americans a “free passage to kill” their Fuehrer.
Although, the Pakistani foreign ministry – after a meeting between the prime minister Gilani, President Zardari and the army top brass, declared the operation as a big “success against terrorists”, and condemned AL Qaeda “which had declared war on Pakistan”, it is likely to confront Pakistan with even tougher questions.
One of the questions relates to the presence of Mulla Omar – the Taliban supreme commander, and Gulbudin Hekmetyar, the Hezbe Islami chief, as well as Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons. All of them have been on the loose, with US officials insisting they are in Pakistan, while the latter constantly denied, saying these Afghans are not in Pakistani territory.
The US administration, shortly to be guided by the clever General David Petraeus as the head of the CIA, would most probably get tougher with Pakistan on the issue of the Afghan warlords, who have been leading the insurgency inside Afghanistan and inflicting heavy losses to the US and NATO forces.
OBL’s death could probably bring about a security paradigm shift in Pakistan’s position on the issue of insurgency and its alleged support for it, which also has been a major irritant in its relations with both India and Pakistan.
The get-OBL operation also underscores the penetration that the CIA and other US agencies have managed deep inside Pakistan. Coupled with a crippling economic situation, the latest incident perhaps sets different security dynamics in motion, which might see the civilian government and the Pakistani security establishment move in tandem as far as India and Afghanistan are concerned.
But if the military establishment and its civilian supports do not give up the head-in-sand-approach, it will only add to the miseries of this “security state.”
The American Special Operations mission also shatters many myths woven around our entire security establishment, and must serve as a warning; nobody trusts it. Nor could it prevent a breach of this country’s sovereignty by the intruding American forces. If the Americans intruded into Pakistani space – undetected and unchallenged – it speaks volumes for our abilities. If our intelligence did not know of OBL, it amounts to massive intelligence failure too. But if some of our leaders were informed only when the operation was underway or had taken place, they should admit it and share it with the nation as well. This will perhaps mitigate the sense of humiliation that we have all gone through.