U.S. Focus Turns to Pakistan’s Role in Hiding Osama Bin Laden [Updated]


Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, the U.S. is turning its attention to the country that housed his million-dollar compound. In an interview with the Today show this morning, John Brennan, President Obama's national security adviser, said "clearly there was some kind of support network" inside Pakistan aiding bin Laden. Yesterday, he said it was "inconceivable" that bin Laden operated alone. But once again, Brennan refused to speculate on whether Pakistani government officials helped to hide bin Laden, although he did reveal that Pakistani authorities are conducting their own investigation into how bin Laden could have remained undetected so close to the country's military equivalent of West Point. When asked if he trusted Pakistan, Brennan pointed out that the country has captured, killed, and brought to justice more terrorists than any other country since 9/11.

However, commentators like Rachel Maddow are claiming that ”it’s always been Pakistan” that has been the most active sponsor of terrorism, going as far as calling the war in Iraq a “red herring.” Pointing to rumors that the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, were hiding Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar in a safe house, Salman Rushdie seemed even more dubious that Pakistan could have been unaware of the Al Qaeda leader in their midst, saying, "This time the facts speak too loudly to be hushed up."

However, in an impassioned op-ed in the Washington Post, President Asif Ali Zardari defends Pakistan's role in fighting terrorism, calling bin Laden "the greatest evil of the new millennium." Zardari claims that more of his soldiers had died for the cause than all of NATO combined and that the fight was personal for him because terrorists assassinated his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in 2007.

Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as as it is America’s. And though it may have started with bin Laden, the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat.

Zardari also says that a decade of joint efforts led to bin Laden's capture, and the White House is treading lightly in terms of alienating a security partner still vital to its actions against Al Qaeda. Hillary Clinton pointed out:

"In fact, co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding."

During a radio interview today, British prime minister David Cameron seemed to hew to the same message:

"The right choice is to engage with Pakistan and to deal with the extremists rather than just throw up our hands in despair and walk away which would be a disastrous choice,” Mr. Cameron said. “We could go down the other route of just having a flaming great row with Pakistan over this. I think that would achieve nothing.”

Pakistan did its part [WP]
Pakistan's bin Laden Connection Is Probed [WSJ]
Pakistan says not part of U.S. operation to kill bin Laden [Reuters]
Questions Focus on Pakistan’s Role in Terror Fight [NYT]
Osama bin Laden wasn't sheltered by us, says Pakistan [Guardian UK]
White House: US determined to destroy al-Qaida [AP]
Salman Rushdie: Pakistan's Deadly Game [Daily Beast]

Update: Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release on Osama bin Laden's death. The government pointed out that the ISI arrested a highly valued Al Qaeda target in Abbottabad between 2003 and 2004 and that "as far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009." The statement also said:

There has been a lot of discussion about the nature of the targeted compound, particularly its high walls and its vicinity to the areas housing Pakistan Army elements. It needs to be appreciated that many houses occupied by the affectees of operations in FATA / KPK, have high boundary walls, in line with their culture of privacy and security. Houses with such layout and structural details are not a rarity.

In a separate interview, an ISI official told the BBC that the compound, just 62 miles from the capital, had been raided when it was under construction in 2003 when it was believed that an Al Qaeda operative was hidden there.

But since then, "the compound was not on our radar, it is an embarrassment for the ISI", the official said. "We're good, but we're not God."

He later added:

"This one failure should not make us look totally incompetent. Look at our track record. For the last 10 years, we have captured Taliban and al-Qaeda in their hundreds - more than any other countries put together."

Death of Osama bin Ladin-Respect for Pakistan’s Established Policy Parameters on Counter Terrorism [Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pakistan]
Pakistan admits Bin Laden intelligence failure [BBC]