NBC News reports that even one year after the death of Osama bin Laden, there are still unanswered questions regarding rogue Pakistani agents or retired soldiers’ involvement in bin Laden and his family’s movement around Pakistan.
Current and retired Pakistani officials and analysts have suggested the possibility that “rogue or retired” elements of Pakistan’s military or intelligence community helped bin Laden and his family move throughout the rugged country undetected.
“If it’s a retired network of people, what I call the ‘Pakistani Blackwater,’ that’s not that bad. It’s bad, but not that bad,” Kamran Bokhari, vice-president for Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs at global intelligence company Stratfor said. “But if it’s someone who’s serving, or more than one person, then [Pakistan's leaders] have a leak in [their] system and that’s terrifying. Anyone who’s a very nationalistic, Pakistani leader who doesn’t want al-Qaida or the CIA to be able to get into their house will want to get to the bottom of that.”
The military is the largest employer in Pakistan, and its retirees stay involved with the military so their experience and contacts can be tapped. Many of these retirees spent time working closely with, and gaining the trust of, jihadi groups during the 1980s and ‘90s. Bin Laden could have tapped into this network for help moving himself and his family through Pakistan.
Bokhari said, “If you’re a 6’5” Arab, and the most wanted man on the planet, you can’t just walk into a place like Pakistan without support… So what’s the nature of that support?”
Officially, there is no evidence that Pakistani leaders had any involvement in, or knowledge of, bin Laden’s presence in the country, but privately, U.S. officials admit that mistrust between the U.S. and Pakistan have led to suspicions that Pakistani intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), at some level knew about bin Laden’s movements and who was helping him.
“There are deep suspicions on both sides,” said retired Pakistani Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former national security advisor and ambassador to the United States. “I think the biggest concern in the U.S., if I put it in a phrase, is that Pakistan is hunting with the hounds and running with the hares. That is the perception.”
Driven in part by a widespread belief that bin Laden was never in Pakistan and that the U.S. government was only trying to discredit Pakistani security institutions, the country did move to create a commission to investigate the U.S. raid and bin Laden’s presence in the country, known as the Abbottabad Commission. The commission has wide, sweeping powers and has had access to those involved and indirectly involved with the raid and bin Laden’s presence, but there’s no deadline for the commission to present its finding and expectations are low as to what the commission will be willing to reveal.
“Given how previous commissions in Pakistan have behaved, I’m not really hopeful that much will come out of this,” Bokhari said. “This is not like the 9/11 Commission or anything similar elsewhere in other countries where there’s a process and transparency and rule of law.”
The results of the commission could have far-reaching consequences not only for Pakistan’s image, but also for its own integrity.
NBC News noted that “it is also widely believed that the organizations cannot survive without taking a hard look at their own potential faults, and admitting mistakes where they did occur.”
The embarrassment to the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment caused by bin Laden’s death within their own borders has brought the “highest level of scrutiny in the country’s history.”
“Pakistan wants to move forwards, not backwards. They have to get to the bottom of this, in their own interest,” Durrani said. “If they don’t, it will be another major issue buried in the sands of history. And people will forever be looking for answers.”
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