Many have been left wondering how Osama bin Laden could have been hiding out so close to Pakistan's security services without their knowledge. How likely is it that some in the security services knew he was in Pakistan?
This is a really a tough one because we still don’t know all the facts. We can hope Pakistani intelligence didn’t know Osama’s location, but hope isn’t a policy.
Recent history suggests that the Inter-Services Intelligencehelps and hurts the US mission to stabilize Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan. The ISI has helped the CIA capture or kill 600 al-Qaeda operatives, including the mastermind of 9/11 – Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. In 2009, the Pakistani successfully cleared – and continues to hold – the Swat valley and South Waziristan from insurgents who threatened US/NATO in Afghanistan’s east and the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Meanwhile, working closely with US trainers and bolstered by American equipment – night vision capabilities, attack helicopters, Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets – the Pakistani military instituted a comprehensive counterinsurgency overhaul through better training and successful information operations to get the Pakistani street on their side against selective insurgents. They didn’t, however, go after or create support to go after the Haqqani network or the Afghan Taliban. These are considered assets against perceived and real Indian influence in Afghanistan.
As a result, Pakistan hurts the US/NATO mission by protecting certain insurgents – Haqqanis and Afghan Taliban – and helps by going after others – the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, Osama bin Laden’s location is a puzzle that now puts Pakistan support against al-Qaeda in question. So I think the ISI alumni network may be more involved in having helped the al-Qaeda operative survive and thrive. In fact, since 2002, former ISI officers have continued to help al-Qaeda and others, although serving ISI officials probably haven’t been supporting al-Qaeda because of some ‘house cleaning’ that has taken place since 2009.
How damaging is the fact that bin Laden was hiding out so close to Islamabad going to be for US-Pakistan relations?
Undoubtedly, this is very embarrassing for the Pakistanis. It puts a lot of pressure on the US Congress and by extension the White House, which has clearly stated that the Pakistani military and intelligence helped in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But I think the calls from some US senators and congressmen to cut aid are hyperbolic and dangerous and divorced from reality. There’s also still significant congressional and White House support for US military and development aid to Pakistan because Washington won’t allow the creation of a failed nuclear state.