Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden report is more cover-up than self-criticism

“Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden report is more cover-up than self-criticism” by Tariq Ali for the Guardian, 10th July 2013


After the US helicopter assault on Osama bin Laden’s quarters in Abbottabad and his assassination by navy Seals in 2011, a shaken Pakistani government set up a commission of inquiry, presided over by a retired judge, Javed Iqbal. Its findings, a part of which was leaked to al-Jazeera this week, reveal the country’s intelligence agencies at loggerheads and in a general state of confusion.

The evidence of General Pasha, the former chief of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, is particularly interesting, with its account of Bin Laden’s travels in Pakistan following the war on Afghanistan, and explanation of how one of his aides used his Pakistani identity card to buy a plot of land not far from the Pakistan military academy. Many of these details are fascinating and the tone of the report may strike many as honest and self-critical. Yet it is worth clarifying that the overall thrust of the report is to exonerate the intelligence agencies by effectively accepting the official version that the ISI and the Federal Investigation Agency were unaware of Bin Laden’s presence in the country.

The notion that Bin Laden, family and bodyguards left Afghanistan and entered Pakistan in 2002 without the knowledge and help of the ISI is risible. The report is weak on background. For example, it fails to explain that the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was made possible only by heavy Pakistani involvement on every level: the operation was viewed by Pakistan’s general headquarters as a total success, the first in its entire history. The control of Kabul and the southern part of the country supposedly provided Islamabad with “strategic depth”.

The links between the ISI and the Taliban regime were intimate. There were differences on some issues but treated by the senior partner as little more than lovers’ tiffs. After 9/11, the Pakistani military were instructed by Washington to facilitate the Nato occupation. General Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, asked for more time and was given two weeks. An American general warned that if Pakistan did not help it would be bombed to extinction. Musharraf caved in. This resulted in enormous tensions within the army, which was now being asked to reverse its only military triumph and help topple a government it had created. The high command held firm, but military dissidents organised three attempts on Musharraf’s life and the jihadi groups funded by the ISI went rogue. Read more