On May 2, 2011, while it was still the night of May 1 in the U.S., the world was greeted by a surprising news story: President Obama confirmed that Osama bin Laden was killed in a CIA operation (dubbed Operation Neptune’s Spear according to some sources) in Abbottabad, Pakistan. President Obama acknowledged Pakistan’s help, but left Pakistan’s integrity to the dogs (after apparently violating its sovereignty) when international media revisited its reports about Osama hiding in Pakistan, about Pakistan being the epicentre of terrorism, and about Pakistan’s state being in collusion with rogue terrorist elements. Why should President Obama care? This is his victory, and whether or not May 1 was a great day for America, it was indeed a great day for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Why do Obama and Clinton praise Pakistan yet their media vilifies us? Some even went to the extent of saying that Obama had neutralized Petraeus’ possible Republican nomination for President in 2012, by denying him the accolades of killing Osama while he was US-ISAF chief in Afghanistan. On the other side of the same coin, this could be Petraeus’ signal about a new, militarized role for the CIA in projecting America’s strength and protecting America’s interests. Nobody notes that US Special Forces and Navy SEALs were not part of the US-ISAF force, but were stationed in Afghanistan on the request of the CIA and under the command of CIA officers who would use them for a calculated and surgical strike. However, Pakistan Today reports that the US refused to rule out Pakistan’s official backing for Osama.
Now, I don’t know who to listen to: John Brennan, or Barack Obama.
Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad
There is much hue and cry about Osama not only being found in Pakistan, but being found in Abbottabad a kilometer away from the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul – Pakistan’s equivalent of Sandhurst or West Point – in a military garrison city that is sprawling with serving and retired officers, soldiers, other civilians, and most importantly, with Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus.
The fact of the matter is that Geronimo is dead, and Pakistan is being blamed for hiding him, when it is supposed to be lauded for finding him and helping hunt him down and kill him. That is, if he were there and alive in the first place…
Operation Neptune’s Spear: Catching and Killing Osama bin Laden
On March 25, 2011, The Wisdom Fund predicted that preparations were under way to stage the death of Osama bin Laden. A Spearhead Analysis report cites the Corbett Report where Osama’s death has been hinted more than 7-8 times since 2001 by different sources. The Corbett Report reminds one of Benazir Bhutto’s interview to David Frost in which she either reveals Osama’s murder, or was talking about someone else’s death and accidentally said “Osama” as a slip of tongue on her part. Not showing the body at this time only adds fuel to the fire of Osama having died long ago, and of the U.S. using this opportunity to target Pakistan and initiate its “third war” at least in terms of psychological warfare if not covert/proxy fighting (where it had apparently run into a stalemate with the ISI) or outright war (which would bring the U.S. and Pakistani militaries head to head, and which is an outcome that Operation Neptune’s Spear was apparently designed to avoid).
Unconfirmed reports and open-source intelligence reveals that the DG ISI and his CIA counterpart Leon Panetta discussed the Osama operation – apparently referred to as Operation Neptune’s Spear – in Washington D.C. sometime in April 2011; this could most likely fall within April 10-12, and could also be the reason why the DG left the States, cutting his visit abruptly. It is evident that the scale of the intel, as well as the quantum of the capture-kill operation, were hidden from a lot of people at a lot of junctures in time. Later, when complicity and standard operating procedures were to be followed, it is evident that US pressure worked at every level of the US-Pakistan relationship to ensure that the operation proceeds smoothly and that there is no military resistance or engagement with the Pakistan Armed Forces.
Mohsin Hamid offers two possible reasons for Pakistan’s obvious involvement in the episode (and corresponding reasons for keeping it secret):
1. Pakistani intelligence agencies uncovered Bin Laden but wanted the US to take responsibility for his killing in order to blunt a possible backlash against Pakistan.
2. It is inconceivable that US helicopters could have penetrated so deeply into Pakistani airspace without being detected by the Pakistan army and air force, so both sides were in on it, but one side evidently couldn’t manage the post-op PR routine.
Of course, there are questions which lead to conspiracies and endless rumours because there is neither official reporting on the matter, nor are Pakistani officials exhibiting their knowledge (or approval) of this incident in Pakistan.
Questions and Conspiracies
If it was indeed Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda supremo, who was found and killed in Abbottabad, the following questions require inquiry and answer: Was Osama sold out? Was he betrayed by his trusted allies? Was he brought to a meeting and then hoodwinked? Did the CIA, ISI and Pakistani military know where he was – did they keep him there or did they actually uncover intelligence leads to find out where Osama had been for ten months? Brig (Retd) Shaukat Qadir also ascribes to the notion that if it really was Osama who was killed, then it must be asked who betrayed him. Robert Fisk says. “For months, President Ali Zardari has been telling us that Bin Laden was living in a cave in Afghanistan. Now it turns out he was living in a mansion in Pakistan. Betrayed? Of course he was. By the Pakistan military or the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence? Quite possibly both. Pakistan knew where he was.” It is also argued that Sheikh Abu Ahmed, Osama’s trusted confidante and courier, was the main intelligence lead that the CIA used to track Osama down.
Why did Osama choose to live at Abbottabad near PMA Kakul? Why did his handlers and security advisers choose that place for him? It is known that Al Qaeda leaders and operatives find more comfort in the urban cities of Pakistan than in the tribal area where their host, Hakeemullah Mehsud, rules with an iron fist ‘in the name of Allah’. But housing Osama right under the nose of Pakistan’s military training facilities has a lot of implications: that Pakistan’s rogue intelligence operatives were involved, that Pakistan’s military services are completely inefficient, that Pakistan will not be able to resist any surgical strike or hot pursuit operation that leads into its territory, and so forth. Neither the military nor the ISI have issued an official statement in this regard – and indeed, it is expected that they will not issue a statement because it is the obligation of the civilian government to back them up. Moreover, sources in the military establishment say that negotiations are underway to formalize a security agreement or pact between the U.S. and Pakistan which would make intelligence-sharing and joint operations more effective and transparent – the military has been encouraging the government in this direction, and the Osama operation might be a teaser of how an effective cooperation mechanism between Pakistan and the US can tackle terrorism. Reminiscent of SEATO and CENTO, the ISPR and Pakistani military may make a statement on their role in Osama’s death – and details of Osama’s travels and stays in Pakistan – after such a pact has been formalized and approved by the Pakistani parliament as well. Incidentally, Leader of the Opposition in the NA, Chaudhry Nisar, was questioning the role and activities of the ISI in the run-up to Osama’s death; an in-camera session of parliament becomes all the more necessary now. And unfortunately, Pakistan’s civilian government was late as well as sorry in their reaction to the world’s most wanted man being found and killed on their soil – India and Afghanistan had already issued scathing remarks by the time PM Gilani got around to claiming a “great victory” for Pakistan. Afghanistan and India’s reaction is simple: their stance stands vindicated, and their media repeats the same four words again and again: we told you so. President Zardari echoed the stance of the Foreign Office by saying “we were not informed”. Perhaps our civilian leaders were more involved in the recent expansion of the Cabinet, and were reveling in the fact that now they will be easily able to pass the upcoming budget in the National Assembly.
Did Osama actually stay in Abbottabad for 10 months? Brig (Retd) Asad Munir told Kamran Khan of GEO News that Osama was untraceable after November 2001, and that Osama never stayed in one place more than 10 days, what to talk of ten months. However, it beguiles the imagination that his extremely large family could move with him every ten days; of course, they were also housed and protected by different Al Qaeda proxies all over the world. And of course, Osama could use housing and protection in all of these different places.
The most crucial question is this: Why was the body not shown? Why will it be shown two days later? Why was the dead body dumped in the sea? When one re-reads the Wisdom Fund artcile on Osama bin Laden’s death being staged, an ominous statement is made: “The US needs a neat ending to its war on Afghanistan. Staging bin Laden’s death will be seen as a fitting end to this genocidal war for the control of energy resources. Of course it will have to be done so that visual identification is not possible”. There are no independent confirmations of Osama’s death, and this is akin to a media blackout on this issue – in effect, the US government and Pentagon are saying “you will either promote our view of the episode, or you will not have anything to report on the episode”. Not showing images or videos of Osama’s body, and dumping his body in the sea (which was done so that there is no burial site to rally Al Qaeda followers) has raised a lot of controversy vis-a-vis Islamic burial practices. However, US sources are saying that Osama’s last recorded propaganda video, along with a video of his funeral, will be made public in due course of time. This will be welcome because a doctored photograph of ‘dead Usama’ had been doing the rounds on the internet – it was edited from two different images and published online as early as 2009, and the Pakistani media took this for an original image document that undoubtedly proved Osama’s death in Pakistan on May 1/2, 2011.
US intelligence sources reveal that Osama’s body was exfiltrated before his security could get a whiff of the action: five minutes after the first blast and shots of gunfire, the entire area awoke to pandemonium as a mini-battle was fought between the remainder of Osama’s guard and US forces backed by Pakistani infantry. The US had to get out, and Pakistan had to neutralize the resistance and secure the area. No casualty reports have been issued by Pakistan, and the area still remains cordoned off. However, the same sources are doubtful that US forces did in fact kill Osama: a preliminary autopsy revealed that Osama’s guard shot him in the head, under well-known orders that OBL cannot be caught alive. However, US special forces were only seconds away from him, and proceeded to eliminate any remaining individuals (Osama’s immediate guards, his wife and children) in the room where Osama’s body was found. In contradiction to this fact are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reactions in the Control Room (where President Obama and his national security team allegedly watched Osama’s death live on camera), where she is queasy about shots being fired and people being killed. The Nation also mentions that Osama’s own guard may have shot him.
It is obvious that after being labelled the epicentre of terrorism for so long, there is going to be immense pressure on Pakistan to do more – which means either to engage North Waziristan militarily, or to engage in effective and robust counterinsurgency techniques in the urban areas where these extremists and terrorists are hiding (and also planning attacks against Pakistan and the rest of the world).
The aftermath of Osama’s death with also lead to more outward-oriented ‘infiltrations’ staged FROM Pakistan to India or to Afghanistan: in fact, on Tuesday May 3, 2011, Reuters revealed that approximately 25 foreign fighters were killed or wounded after crossing into east Afghanistan from Pakistan; they included Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis. Such ‘infiltrations’ will now be reported more vociferously than ever; the indication will be that Pakistan – for one reason or the other – is causing terrorism in Afghanistan (just like it did in India and Iran – yes, the Iranians accused us of harboring Jundullah and Abdolmalek Rigi).
The Pakistani military – and especially the ISI – will come under pressure from all quarters: the US will ask how they did not know Osama was so well hidden a few hundred yards away from PMA Kakul, the civilians will ask why they were not informed or notified, and the people will wonder where their defence budget is going if the Army cannot track four helicopters entering our airspace. Chances of tensions within the military are also possible in case it is revealed that a rogue element within the ISI was responsible for keeping Osama hidden. There are also rumours that either the Army Chief or DG ISI will be sacked, or they will tender their resignations – it is too premature to say this, because either Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha are aware of this (and also partially responsible for this immense victory in the War on Terror) or because they have adequate contingencies and counter-measures in place; general staff officers of the Pakistan Army usually do.
It remains to be seen why Pakistan confirmed the operation but distanced itself from it and whether Pakistan has a strategy or game-plan following this world-shaking event. In any case, Pakistanis must brace themselves for backlash from Al Qaeda and their proxies, as well as political and diplomatic berating from the US, Afghanistan and arch nemesis India.