Americans are raging at “ally” Pakistan over the discovery of Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad, smack under the nose of the military. Furious US government officials and legislators accuse Pakistan of duplicity, treachery, betrayal.
In a recent WikiLeak, a US diplomat actually branded Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, “a terrorist organization.”
Pakistan is truly on the hot seat. The Zardari government and Pakistan’s military face charges they were either incompetent or duplicitous over bin Laden. Take your pick.
The Americans dancing with joy in the streets at the news of bin Laden’s assassination seem unaware their almost decade-long jihad against him cost a staggering $1,283 trillion and left the US stuck in 2.5 wars.
Bin Laden’s vow in the 1990’s to bankrupt the US has been partly achieved. His goal: overthrow the Muslim world’s western-backed dictatorships and drive the US from the region.
Washington’s triumph was quickly undermined by its false claims over the rubout of the unarmed bin Laden, and by dumping his body in the sea, Mafia-style.
It’s hard to believe Pakistan didn’t know the world’s most wanted man was living in quiet retirement a short stroll from its military academy. CIA certainly did.
The failure of Pakistan’s air defenses to detect low-flying US helicopters in the hilly terrain raised two key questions: did Pakistan’s military give the US a green light to go after bin Laden?
More important, could the US or India stage a similar lightening air assault to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal? Though dispersed, it looks vulnerable after last week’s daring US raid.
Washington claims it found bin Laden by following one of his couriers. But there are also reports that bin Laden’s compound was actually located by Afghan intelligence which remains dominated by Tajik agents of the old Communist KhAD intelligence service. Bin Laden, who killed their hero, secret Soviet “asset” Ahmad Shah Massoud, was their number one target for revenge.
As a long-time ISI watcher who received briefings by its director generals on my every visit to Pakistan, let me suggest another angle to this murky business.
In late 2001-2002, according to then president Pervez Musharraf, the US threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” unless he bowed to a US ultimatum: hand over to the US key air bases and air space, port access, provide 120,000 troops for US use, put ISI under American control. Taliban, Pakistan’s anti-Communist proxy in Afghanistan, was to be attacked.
Pakistan’s ISI and its military were purged of all senior officers that CIA and the Pentagon deemed too Islamic or unresponsive to US demands. ISI became in part an extension of CIA. Most Pakistanis think their nation was virtually occupied by the US after 9/11, and remains so today.
However, a few independent deep cover units of ISI remained, notably those that had long run the secret anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. I first became aware of these units as the first western journalist to be briefed on the secret war by then ISI chief, Akhtar Abdur Rahman.
One of these deep cover ISI units may have been keeping the retired Osama on ice, pending a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In that event, bin Laden would have been a useful tool to rally Pashtun tribes, among whom he is venerated as a war hero, and lead the fight against Afghanistan’s entrenched Tajik and Uzbek Communists who, ironically, are today America’s allies.
Senior ISI officers never believed bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks, mirroring the widely held belief across the Muslim world that Israel and US rightwing Republicans had engineered the criminal assault. The US keeps all sorts of questionable Third World exiles in its library of former extremists. Why not Pakistan?
One big why not is Washington’s calls for Pakistan’s head. Islamabad’s feeble government and potent armed forces have become totally dependant on billions in US aid. Over the next five years, the US has promised Pakistan $7.5 billion – if it behaves.
The US Congress is threatening to end this bonanza. However, the US can’t wage war in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s cooperation. So most of the money will keep flowing.
The unhappy US-Pakistani shotgun marriage will continue, at least for a while longer.