Death of OBL – Part IV: Pakistan’s Complicity?

This will be the last part. Though I have material for seven parts, I don’t much see the point of continuing on. If I do add one last part it will be a short addition about Condi Rice’s odd statement to Anderson Cooper in a recent interview about the death of Abu Nidal, since I have seen only one other person address the issue.

Many have been writing about the alleged complicity of Pakistani leadership in hiding Osama bin Laden from the Americans for the last ten years. Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s leadership has been vociferously refuting the allegations that they had made common cause with al Qaeda or bin Laden’s Taliban allies. So far the West has been skeptical of Pakistan’s claims, to say the least.

And not surprisingly so. Given what we have learned in the last two weeks – that bin Laden had been hiding in plain sight in what essentially constitutes a fortress one kilometer away from Pakistan’s most prestigious military school in what is recognized as a garrison town – questions about Islamabad’s complicity are inevitable.

If we look further back in history it can be seen that there has been a long standing relationship between the Pakistani government and the Taliban, and even between the Pakistani secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban’s primary patron, al Qaeda.

The Taliban itself is merely a manufactured alliance between former mujahadeen commanders and Deobani-inspired fundamentalists from Kandahar. Established in the early 1990s as response to the lawlessness that pervaded the country in the civil war that followed the defeat of Moscow-backed communist forces, the Taliban received massive material aid from Pakistan up until September 12, 2001 – at least officially. That senior Taliban leadership has continued receiving assistance and safe-haven from certain Pakistani communities up to this day is an open secret.

The same could be said about Pakistan’s odd relationship with al Qaeda. Allegedly, there are similar ties between the ISI and bin Laden as al Qaeda training camps proved positive training grounds for terrorists engaged in a long-running anti-India insurgency. Additionally, there have been accusations regarding direct material support provided to the September 11 hijackers from senior (now retired) members of the ISI.

That Pakistan’s President, Asif Zardari, is conscious of these (former?) alliances is unquestioned. Whether Pakistan’s civilian leadership is directing Islamabad’s current relationships with the Taliban and al Qaeda is another matter (personally it would seem that Zardari, like any other Pakistani leader, is more interested in fleecing his people than concerning himself with such geopolitical calculations).

And America should be very careful in making accusations suggesting that the entire body of Pakistan’s government is complicit in hiding bin Laden, not simply because Islamabad, regardless of its alleged duplicity, is still a necessary partner if there is to be any success in bringing stability to Afghanistan, and because destabilizing a nuclear armed regime is never a good idea (Steve Coll called Pakistan the “AIG of nation-states” in that it is too big to fail). The United States should be careful because they’ve had their own string of substantial intelligence failures over the past decade.

Look at the failure to predict (and counter) an insurgency in Iraq.

Look at the failure to correctly determine that Iraq’s WMD program was lacking.

Look at the failure to prevent September 11.

That is a pretty terrible record. Each intelligence failure proved catastrophic in the destruction it caused.

Looking more closely at September 11, there is a certain parallel between Pakistan’s failure to locate Osama bin Laden and the CIA’s failure to identify the 19 men bent on flying hijacked planes into US landmarks. American intelligence agencies proved woefully inept at tracking the participants, some of whom were identified as al Qaeda members before they ever set foot in the United States, and a handful of them re-entering the US multiple times. Even after the attacks, American intelligence failed to track certain individuals who may have provided material support, the most prominent of which is the prostitute frequenting current al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula chief Anwar al-Awlaki.

That American intelligence did not do all they could do to prevent the September 11 attacks seems obvious, and begs the same question asked of the Pakistanis: were American intelligence institutions stupid or complicit? The 9/11 Commission report essentially blames the failure to prevent the attack on legal restrictions preventing intelligence sharing between federal agencies and crafts a rosy presentation that everyone did the best they could under the circumstances. And while I agree that intelligence sharing is a critical factor, it does not stand to reason that not a single person has been held to account for the failure of September 11.

Neither does it stand that no one should be held to account within the ISI, Pakistani military and/or Zardari administration. But America does have to be careful about how pervasive its criticism becomes. Washington expects to be given the benefit of the doubt with regard to its past intelligence failures, and for the most part it does (the number of people who believe in the absurd notion that the Bush administration had a direct hand in 9/11 is not small, but certainly a minority). In the debate between incompetence and complicity I, like most people, feel American failures stem from stupidity rather than some nefarious plot. Doesn’t Pakistan deserve the same luxury until evidence proves otherwise?

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