The dwelling and it’s location in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was discovered to be has raised legitimate concerns with interested parties outside of the Beltway and counter intelligence groups. Many in Washington and the intelligence network there have felt for some time that there are those in Pakistan, especially their counterpart to our CIA, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), were too cozy with some terrorist groups, especially one home-grown group called Laskhar e Taiba.
There of course will be the Islamophobes in western countries who will attach themselves instantly to this notion but there are those of us, who in the past have tentatively felt that Pakistan was equally concerned as the U.S. about al-qaida’s threat to global security, will now be taking a second look at this position. I now have some serious reservations of their sincerity even as Pakistan’s leader, Asif Ali Zardari, denounced the notion 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.”
Zardari you will recall is the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto who ironically claimed in a David Frost interview 4 years ago that Osama bin Laden was “murdered years ago.” The Pakistani people have lost some 30,000 civilians along with 2000 police officers to terrorist activities. Yet there are revelations about bin Laden’s fortress in Abbottabad which is located just a half hour from the Pakistani capital and only a short walking distance from Pakistan’s version of our West Point Academy.
Other factors that raise suspicion about Pakistan’s duplicity in capturing bin Laden was that Abbottabad was “heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers – and is relatively free of any terrorist activity. ‘There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military,’” said Ali Soufan, a veteran former FBI counterterrorism agent.
The compound that bin Laden built was a million plus dollar construction in a part of the town where much smaller homes existed. This may not have seemed odd in many American neighborhoods but when such wealth is spent in a relatively poor nation like Pakistan, it should have raised some eyebrows with local officials. The bin Laden fortress was built in 2005 so for approximately six years the fact that the residents there burned their own trash and went without internet and phone service all this time and never puzzled officials in a military town seems odd.
The country was after all, as Zardari pointed out, heavily occupied with terrorists and had been the hiding place for “nearly a dozen of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders [who] have either been arrested alive or have been killed in this part of the globe since the 9/11 episode.” Whether this is a case of deception by the entire Pakistani government or just a handful within the ISI becomes a challenge now for the relationship between our two countries.
It calls into question if our $18 billion investment there over the last 10 years has served its purpose and whether we should continue these payments in the future. Pakistan is slated to receive up to $3 billion in aid for 2012.
I for one have firmly believed that assisting foreign governments where terrorist recruitment is prone to run high is a necessary investment to prevent al-qaida style organizations from bringing more people into their ranks. Poverty will drive many young Muslims into an terrorist organization that promises to pay them wages they can’t earn elsewhere and allow them also to vent their frustrations against the U.S. and other western democracies they perceive as invaders and violators of Islamic holy ground.
But that conviction has been strained with this recent discovery about bin Laden’s whereabouts. I find it plausible that if it were not specifically known by some that bin Laden was building this compound in Abbottabad for himself then there was an understanding that it’s occupants were likely associated with this criminal in some capacity. If that was the case then the failure of the ISI to monitor bin Laden’s home for suspicious activity for nearly 6 years allows some legitimate finger-pointing to be aimed at them.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, back in 2009, told newspaper editors in Lahore that she found it “hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to.” Following the successful assault on bin Laden’s compound John Brennan, Obama’s deputy national security adviser and chief counterterrorism coordinator said that bin Laden was “hiding in plain sight” and implied that it was hard to dismiss the fact that some in the Pakistani government or ISI couldn’t answer “how he was able to hold out there for so long.”
If these highly knowledgable people are publicly raising this question along with the fact that the Pakistani government wasn’t warned in advance about the raid, then it leaves very little wiggle room for Zardari and other Pakistani officials to escape criticism about possible links between them and al-qaida. Not that Zardari hasn’t made a viable case against this view.
In his Op-ed piece in the Washington Post he pointed out that “the Taliban reacted by blaming the government of Pakistan and calling for retribution against its leaders, and specifically against me as the nation’s president.” By coming off disconnected it is speculated that such outbreaks would be minimized in a country that has already been pushed to the brink with social unrest and the devastation of record breaking floods last year that impacted one-fifth of Pakistan’s total land area with 10 million people.
In our country where state and federal budgets are strained I am indeed concerned that billions in aid to Pakistan may be going down a rabbit hole rather than preventing job losses here that that money would prevent. The dilemma is one in where if we decide that Pakistan has been working both sides of the terrorism game, withdrawing monetary aid could improve our own financial woes while risking that the greater poverty that would result in Pakistan will force more young Muslims to take up arms and perpetuate terrorist activities at a time when bin Laden’s death could have a mollifying effect on it.