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Osama death: An embarrassment Pakistan can't live down

May 02, 2011 11:26 IST
Seema Mustafa on bin Laden's death and its repercussions for Pakistan.

'Osama bin Laden is dead,' US President Barack Obama declared from the White House. He could as easily have said Al Qaeda is dead, as without Osama, his organisation does not have the leadership to strike the same kind of terror across the world.

The announcement was dramatic, but what was of even greater significance is that the killing of bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan, will be a precursor to a major strategic shift in American policy for the region, and will impact directly on Pakistan in the long and short run.

It is significant and ironic that for several hours after the announcement by the US president, there was complete silence in Islamabad.

Obama made it clear that US intelligence had got a lead about bin Laden's whereabouts as far back as August last year, that the developments were being closely monitored since then by him and his national security team, and that he sanctioned the final action as part of his administration's policy that if the US knew the Al Qaeda leader's whereabouts it would act directly with or without the host country's permission.

In passing reference, the US president said Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had been informed, and that American special forces had succeeded because of the overall cooperation from the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies.

Clearly a decision had been taken early on to keep the information secret, and not bring the Pakistanis into the loop. In other words, the US administration acted on its own intelligence, using its own special forces to finally track down and kill the Al Qaeda leader living just outside Pakistan's capital, in a highly secure, military area.

This is an embarrassment Pakistan will not be able to live down internationally.

More than that, it is confirmation of what the Americans and the world community has been saying for a while now, that the Pakistan military and establishment was aware of bin Laden's whereabouts and had decided to keep the information away from the Americans.

It was impossible for bin Laden to live in the luxurious building with a huge compound in Abbotabad without the knowledge of the Inter Services Intelligence or the Pakistan military.

It does seem as if he was housed in what can be described as a 'safe house' even as Pakistan pretended to be helping the Americans in the much publicised war against terror.

Pakistan's credibility has suffered a severe blow with the complicity of its military and intelligence agencies coming under the global scanner.

There is no doubt that the Pakistan government will have a great deal of explaining to do, more so after the hue and cry it made over the arrest of the American Raymond Davis after he allegedly killed a couple of Pakistanis. That incident had clearly caused bad blood between the two countries, with the events leading up to the arrest and killing of Osama bin Laden merely confirming the US claim of Pakistani complicity.

It does seem now that the Davis incident might have been related, and it might not be far fetched to presume that his decision to kill the two Pakistanis was perhaps linked to the fresh intelligence information that American special forces were pursuing in Abbotabad.

Pakistan will also face flak from within with the conservative forces attacking the government for working with the Americans and conversely, for allowing the Amercians complete access to its territory.

The issue of sovereignty is likely to reverberate on the streets of Pakistan for a while with conservative political forces expected to organise protests against the government.

On both fronts the Pakistan government will be in the firing line. Clearly neither its president nor its prime minister are astute and skilful enough to turn the damaging turn of events into at least some faintly credible show of victory.

Seema Mustafa