By Sajjad Shaukat
After the death of top Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in a covert military operation by the US in Pakistan’s city, Abbottabad, contradictory statements of American high officials coupled with their media continue as part of a deliberate propaganda campaign against Pakistan, targeting its Army and spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
In this connection, on May 3, CIA Director Leon Panetta said that American officials ruled out informing Islamabad about a planned raid against Osama Bin Laden’s compound, as they feared their Pakistani counterparts might alert the Al Qaeda chief.
Earlier on May 2, Obama stated that cooperation with the US anti-terror ally had helped lead the US forces to the terror chief. On the same day, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated, “our counter-terrorism cooperation over a number of years now with Pakistan contributed greatly to our efforts to dismantle Al-Qaeda…in fact, Pakistan’s intelligence helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding.”
While on May 8, White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stressed that, despite the fugitive terror chief, hiding for years in a three-storey house near the capital Islamabad, “I have not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership of Pakistan had foreknowledge of bin Laden.”
But quite opposite to the statements of Obama and Ms. Clinton, some US officials and their media continue blame game against ISI in connection with intelligence failure regarding the hideout and presence of Bin Laden in Abbottabad.
In response to US accusations against Pak Army and ISI of supporting the militants—and as to why they remained unaware about the hideout of Osama, while addressing the parliament on May 9, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani rejected the allegations of complicity and incompetence on the country’s armed forces and ISI saying, “the ISI prosecuted the anti-terror strategy with a high degree of professionalism and superb determination.”
Before him, on May 5, in a news briefing, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir remarked that the performance of no intelligence agency including CIA can be compared with that of the ISI in the war against terrorism. He further elaborated that it was due to the efforts of ISI which arrested top terrorists and Al Qaeda’s militants, namely, Khalid Sheikh, Abu Faraj Libbi, Rumzi, Abu Zubaida, Khalfan, Abu Hamza Rabia and so-called Bali bomber from different cities and places of the country.
It is noteworthy that during war against terrorism, Pakistan has sacrificed more than any country including the US or NATO in terms of collateral damage, economic losses and political instability. In this context, more than 30, 000 people died in various incidents of terrorism. Besides, more than 5, 000 military soldiers and 2,000 policemen were martyred in this different war against terrorism, while Pakistan faced a continued wave of suicide attacks, bomb blasts and targeted killings including missile attacks by the CIA-operated predators. Notably, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik has said on May 2 that ISI has castigated more than 2,000 suicide attacks.
But despite these Pak sacrifices, some American high officials and media accuse Pakistan’s ISI of intelligence failure. So question arises regarding Osama Bin Laden episode that it is whose intelligence failure?
In this respect, it is notable that while Bin Laden was living in the Abbotabad compound for five years, and as to why US intelligence agencies, CIA and FBI could not know about his presence—and as to why he was not captured in the last ten years. Similar aquestion also arisess about the September 11 suicide attacks. It was described as the greatest intelligence failure of the American spy agencies which are equpped with the latest technology.
It is of particular attention that since 9/11, various steps have been taken by the US Administration so as to confirm the identity of the people or target located by certain types of technical intelligence. At a Central Investigation Agency (CIA) listening facility in Virginia, 5000 to 6000 pieces of intelligence are examined as part of the agency’s counter terrorism effort. Phone conversation in remote parts of the world is monitored by satellite. In other words, America is spying on the rest of the globe. However, despite its vast resouces, technical intelligence e.g. satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and human intelligence—extraordinary long-range aerial military capacity, the ability to strike at will from the space at any point on the globe, US intelligence agencies, especially CIA failed in detecting Bin Laden and destroying Al Qaeda’s terrorist network for the past ten years.
Since the 9/11, various subversive acts such as targeted killings, bomb blasts and suicide attacks in Israel, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Spain, Turkey, Algiers etc., and an unending wave of the same in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan show intelligence failure of the American CIA.
Similarly, in July 7, 2005, a series of bomb attacks on London’s transport network killed more than 30 people. Here question also arises about the intelligence failure of the British spy agencies, particularly MI5.
Nevertheless, compound and structure where Osama Bin Laden was living is a norm rather than exception. A number of people have been living in the neighbourhood of that compound at Abbottabad. While various television channels of Pakistan have shown the interviews of the neighbourers, living there, who remarked that they were never suspicion about Osama’s presence in that compound.
So ISI did not have a magic to know the whereabouts of Bin Laden in that compound. It was also not possible for this spy agency to check all the houses of Pakistan or to interfere in peoples’ privacy in order to find out Bin Laden.
The unilateral US military action at Abbottabad by violating Pakistani sovereignty has set a very dangerous precedence—greatly added to the heightened sense of anti- Americanism in Pakistan which has eroded the sense of friendship that is essential for conducting a joint counter terrorism campaign against Al Qaeda. It has strengthened the position of hardliners who oppose cooperation with Washington on the basis that this unequal relationship is going to leave Pakistan in a lurch as the US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The episode has further exacerbated the sense of mistrust which is primarily an outcome of such an outburst, emanating from the US side. Pakistan reserves the right to disengage from US, if latter continues to behave in the same way.
Without any doubt, major victories against Al Qaeda have been made possible only owing to the efforts of the ISI and any future successes can only be achieved, if there is a close and meaningful cooperation between CIA and ISI. In future, CIA efforts to go alone by bypassing the ISI are likely to fail.
Nonetheless, comparatively, we can conclude that instead of ISI, CIA has badly failed in destroying the Al Qaeda network as a perennial wave of roadside bombs, suicide attacks, ambush attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq and other already mentioned countries has proved. So it is failure of American CIA which could not break the network of Al Qaeda in a prolonged war against terrorism, being fought in more than ten years.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations