Was Pakistan Harboring Bin Laden?

Posted: May 02, 2011 2:22 PM
As more details come to light about the surgical US incursion into Pakistan to take down Osama bin Laden, the more alarming questions must be raised about Pakistan's commitment as an ally.  Kevin's post highlighted the muted reaction (at best) to bin Laden's death from Pakistani officials.  Gen. Musharraf's perverse hand-wringing about sovereignty is also troubling.  Worse still, it seems increasingly likely that at least some elements of Pakistan's high leadership turned a blind eye to bin Laden's whereabouts within their borders.  Whether the Pakistani government was knowingly harboring bin Laden remains to be seen, but there are some clues that suggest it's certainly possible:

The compound in Abbottabad where Osama Bin Laden was killed was once used as a safe house by Pakistan's premier intelligence agency ISI, Gulf News has learned.

"This area had been used as ISI's safe house, but it was not under their use any more because they keep on changing their locations," a senior intelligence official confided to Gulf News. However, he did not reveal when and for how long it was used by the ISI operatives. Another official cautiously said "it may not be the same house but the same compound or area used by the ISI".

The official also confirmed that the house was rented out by Afghan nationals and is not owned by the government. The house is located just 800 metres away from the Pakistan Military Academy and some former senior military officials live nearby.

Bin Laden just happened to be living in a former Pakistani intelligence service safe house -- a stone's throw from Pakistan's version of West Point -- and we're supposed to believe the Pakistanis had no idea he was there?   The president of the Council on Foreign Relations says the fairytale of Pakistani ignorance "strains credulity."  Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan calls the notion that bin Laden didn't have a support network within Pakistan "inconceivable."  Jake Tapper also reports this disturbing tidbit:

Another white-knuckle moment – at the end of the operation, Pakistan’s military scrambled fighter jets looking for the US helicopters. Who knows what could have happened if the Pakistani planes had reached the US helicopters -- but they didn’t.

The US team got back to Afghanistan by around 5:45 pm ET.

Not only are the Pakistanis miffed that we didn't bring them into the loop prior to launching the mission, they actually (unsuccessfully) scrambled fighter jets to track down our choppers as the operation concluded.  What exactly were they planning to do if they'd found our helicopters?  It seems like it's time to take a long, hard look at US-Pakistani relations.  With "friends" like this -- friends whom we've provided with billions of dollars in foreign aid -- who needs enemies?

UPDATE - This New Yorker piece is pretty damning:

It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without its coming to the attention of anyone in the Pakistani Army.

The initial circumstantial evidence suggests that the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.

UPDATE II - Enter Wikileaks:

American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.  Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) also allegedly smuggled al-Qaeda terrorists through airport security to help them avoid capture and sent a unit into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.

The claims, made in leaked US government files obtained by Wikileaks, will add to questions over Pakistan’s capacity to fight al-Qaeda.