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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anecdotal but convincing: Pakistan knew where Bin Laden was

A fascinating article in Hudson-NY by Anna Mahjar-Barducci:
Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Usama bin Laden was killed last week, is the same town I lived in for five years – in a house 800 meters away from his villa.

...All these roads were already heavily patrolled before 9/11, and more so after the Taliban took over the Swat valley: it is unthinkable that the most wanted man tried his luck in reaching Abbottabad at the risk of being stopped at a checkpoint. To avoid this danger, according to experience, there is only one way: to use an official car. No soldier will ever dare to stop what he supposes to be a high-ranking officer.

Abbottabad is considered a "cantonment," or a military town, with many military institutions: the Frontier Force Regiment (popularly known as the "Piffers"), an infantry regiment, and a batallion of mountain artillery. The most remarkable institution, however, is the "Pakistan Military Academy" (PMU), the Pakistani equivalent of West Point, from which Bin Laden's hideout was only a few hundred meters.

In such a place, the presence of security forces and secret services is everywhere. Everyone is under observation, particularly foreigners and newcomers.

Once you gain the confidence of the local officers they may even reveal themselves to you. Some officers of the so-called "secret police" were not exactly the movie image of James Bond. Rather, they were badly dressed and probably having some problems making ends meet. However, this ramshackle police managed to give an American aid-worker suspected of espionage 24 hours' notice to leave the country, It did not take much to raise their suspicion, and for them to take the subsequent action.

Bin Laden's compound was located in Bilal Town, a not very elegant area of Abbottabad. ... The presence of more than 20 people living in the compound, however, could not have passed unnoticed.

...In a country where gossip is a national sport, how is it possible that the presence of people from Waziristan, who were buying food for scores of persons, was never signalled to the police? When I lived there, everybody seemed to know me and my whereabouts. I even received anonymous phone calls although my name was not in the telephone book. I did not know these people, but they knew me.

...Pakistani officials are now protesting that the country's sovereignty has been violated. It probably was. But more importantly, Pakistan's credibility -- if there was any left -- as a reliable partner in the war against terrorism, is now completely gone.

Until now, many thought that Pakistan's double game was due to some deviated sectors of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence); now we understand that there is more to it than that. Americans knew full well that Pakistanis could not be trusted, so they took action without informing the country's authorities -- they were right.