As Pakistan begins to cope with the astonishing reality that the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, had actually been living quite comfortably in its backyard for the last five or six years, a combination of embarrassment, anger and a fraught sullenness continues to make the country the cynosure of the world’s eyes.
General Mahmud Durrani, a former national security adviser as well as a card-carrying member of Pakistan’s intelligentsia, acknowledged the shock and the soul-searching that had begun to mark Pakistan in the wake of bin Laden’s death.
“It is a double embarrassment for us,” General Durrani told the Business Standard over the phone from Islamabad, “I was among those who believed that Osama bin Laden was living somewhere in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but now we find that he was under our nose all the time.”
“I also don’t believe that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies knew about Osama’s whereabouts or that they were part of the US operation that ultimately killed him… I think they were caught, literally, with their pants down.”
Over the last 24 hours, the Pakistani establishment has spoken in both voices on the killing of the Al Qaeda leader, from denying that it was part of the US-led operation to declaring Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism, reflecting the Pakistani deep dilemma over being on the same side as the Americans in the ongoing fight against terror.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani left for France on an official visit today, having declared that “intelligence-sharing” with Islamabad had contributed to the US operation. Meanwhile, Hamid Mir, a well-known journalist who works for the privately-owned Geo TV and is the only journalist in that country to have thrice met Osama bin Laden, hinted in an article in a sister publication, The News, that there had, indeed, been some cooperation on this matter between the US and Pakistan.
According to Mir, the Pakistanis shared “very important information regarding Osama bin Laden in May 2010 with the CIA,” going on to add that the Pakistanis intercepted a telephone call made by an Arab between the Buddhist site of Taxila and Abbottabad (where Osama was finally found) and the CIA was informed about the presence of an important Al Qaeda leader in the area in August 2010.
Humayun Khan, a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and distinguished diplomat, pointed out that in the aftermath of Osama’s killings, “a lot of questions are being raised by the people, over the role of Pakistan’s agencies, and that is a good thing.”
Meanwhile, in India, analysts advised the government to tighten its own security apparatus against potential terror attacks from outside as well as home-grown ethnic and religious disaffection, but seemed divided over the pace of the recently resumed bilateral dialogue process after the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
But on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, analysts said the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden could embolden US security forces to undertake similar operations against other terrorist groups taking refuge inside Pakistani territory, such as against the Haqqani network that is present on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and Afghan Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura said to be residing in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
According to General Durrani, if the US forces decided it was now time to take action against other insurgent groups, to speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan, “they may not have the same kind of success…this will only aggravate the tension and the mistrust between Pakistan and the US as it exists today.”
Several Indian and Pakistani analysts and leaders, including the well-known Pakistan People’s Party leader Sherry Rehman, also felt that Pakistan would have to brace itself for more and more terror attacks.
Just because Osama bin Laden was dead, these leaders said, it did not mean that the terror machine which over the last couple of decades had divided itself up into several outfits and spread itself across Pakistani Punjab and Sind — such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba as well as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, among others — was going to give up without a fight.
A S Dullat, a former chief of India’s intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing, agreed that Pakistan would bear the brunt of terror attacks in the short run. “Osama was only the fountainhead, it is the ideology of fundamentalism and religious extremism emanating from the dangerous cocktail of terror that needs to be controlled,” he said.
Interestingly, even as P Chidambaram’s home ministry yesterday sought to bring back the focus on the linkages between the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan’s intelligence establishment, Indian analysts were divided over the need to “deepen cooperation” with Islamabad rather than belittle it.
While Wilson John of the Observer Research Foundation felt India should adopt a “wait-and-watch policy” because the Pakistani state was bound to become “much more fragile” as a result of the divisions within, several other Indian analysts felt it would not be in India’s interest to react in a knee-jerk and impulsive fashion and cut off the recently resumed peace dialogue.
“We have to understand what Pakistan has been going through, with as many as 7000 Pakistanis having been killed in recent years as a result of the almost daily spate of suicide blasts and terror attacks,” the latter said.
They pointed out that more Pakistanis had been killed in these terror attacks than people across the Western world, and that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take a leaf out of British prime minister David Cameron as well as US president Barack Obama, who have reiterated that their countries will enhance, not decrease, cooperation with Pakistan to help it in its fight against terror.
Like Humyaun Khan, Gen. Durrani felt it would be a pity if Delhi decided to draw down on the dialogue process with Pakistan because it believed that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies remote-controlled terrorists at home.
“I can understand what India is saying, that Pakistan must take action against terror at home, but I would say that it would be better if India holds Pakistan’s hand and talks about fighting terrorism together. After all, India is not hermetically sealed,” Durrani said.