Monday, May 09, 2011

Pakistan's Government Deals With Fallout From Bin Laden Raid

Around the world, people are trying to figure out exactly how Osama bin Laden was able to live and thrive in the shadow of Pakistan's military academy for years without anyone in the Pakistani government knowing. Many suggest that the government was either incompetent or complicit in bin Laden avoiding capture for all these years.

Statements from bin Laden's wife suggests complicity with at least some members of the Pakistani security services such that while the government at its highest levels may not have known that bin Laden was in their country, others who did were doing their best to keep the government in the dark about bin Laden's whereabouts.

The US raid has raised the ire among both Pakistani Islamists and nationalists - each of whom have taken exception with the US and the Pakistani government. The US acted as though the Pakistani government was penetrated and could not be trusted. That could be seen as lack of faith in the Pakistani government, or that it provides the Pakistani government an out - allowing the Prime Minister to claim that the US acted alone to avoid the appearance of collusion in going after bin Laden that could raise the ire of the Islamists.

Prime Minister Gilani rejects the claims of incompetence or collusion, but those are pretty much empty statements without more evidence to suggest otherwise.
Gilani acknowledges Pakistan's "intelligence failures" over the bin Laden case, but says all the world's intelligence agencies also failed in the inability to track down the terrorist leader.

Update at 9:47 a.m. ET: In an address to Pakistan, he rejected the "blame game" in attempts to point the finger at Pakistan's military and intelligence agency, known as ISI.

"Yes, there has been an intelligence failure," Gilani says. "It is not only ours, but all intelligence agencies of the world. The al Qaeda chief, along with other al Qaeda operatives, have managed to elude other intelligence agencies for a long time."

He says, in fact, that ISI was responsible for a tip that helped lead the CIA to bin Laden's hideout in a compound in Abbottabad, 35 miles from Islamabad.

"It is disingenuous for anyone to blame Pakistan or the state institutions of Pakistan, including the ISI and the armed forces, for being in cahoots with al Aqaeda," he says.

He concedes that the issue of how bin Laden could hide in plain site is a source of concern in Pakistan, but says an investigation has been ordered to get to the bottom of it.

"Let's not rush to judgment," he says. "Charges of incompetence or complicity are absurd. We emphatically reject such speculation."
The problem is that the CIA and US officials both state that Pakistani intel services were in the dark about bin Laden's whereabouts and that they didn't consult with the Pakistanis before the raid, lest they tip off bin Laden as to the impending raid. While the Prime Minister claims full confidence in the Pakistani military and ISI, the behind the scenes situation is likely to be full of recriminations and demands for answers in how the government could have been left in the dark about bin Laden's whereabouts for so long.

The Pakistani government has to walk a fine line between dealing the Islamists a blow and nationalists who might side with the Islamists over the hard feelings created by the US raid to take out bin Laden with the government apparently in the dark about the raid until after the raid was already underway.

So, why did bin Laden choose Abbottabad? Well, it was central to Pakistan with easy access to Islamabad and a quick getaway to the frontier provinces should bin Laden be tipped off. Building a walled compound wouldn't be out of character, and the area was a frequent destination of vacationers and Pakistanis from all over the country.

I suspect that the military academy was another reason that bin Laden chose the town; it could provide a source for recruiting future jihadis.

It also appears that the compound wasn't nearly as militarized as one could have expected; there weren't escape tunnels, hidden weapons caches, or other accoutrements that one could expect around a terror master like bin Laden. Perhaps he grew complacent in the fact that he was hiding in plain sight and that his security measures were sufficient to avoid detection by the Pakistanis or that he wasn't expecting the US to carry out a raid against his compound.

Don't expect other al Qaeda terror masters like Awlaki or Zawahiri to make that same mistake. Both are more likely to take additional security precautions in light of how the US carried out the raid in Pakistan.

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