by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 3, Jumada' al-Ula', 1432)
In the late hours of May 1, US President Barack Obama went on the air to break the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan. While he did not give much detail about the operational side of the attack, he did “thank” the Pakistanis for their “cooperation” in the operation that was carried out on a “compound in Abbottabad”, home to the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul (just outside Abbottabad).
In the late hours of May 1, US President Barack Obama went on the air to break the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan. While he did not give much detail about the operational side of the attack, he did “thank” the Pakistanis for their “cooperation” in the operation that was carried out on a “compound in Abbottabad”, home to the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul (just outside Abbottabad). Obama then launched into the now-familiar litany of the 9/11 attacks without directly saying Osama was responsible for them. The general impression left was that Osama was responsible and that the US had finally dealt with him. The fact, however, is that even the FBI has not officially named Osama as the person responsible for 9/11. This, of course, is now a moot point.
Despite Obama’s thanking the Pakistanis, according to reports, the US had not informed them prior to launching the attack. Indeed, the Americans deliberately kept it secret from the Pakistanis suspecting they might facilitate Osama’s escape before the operation was launched. This raises serious questions. Under what law do the Americans violate Pakistan’s sovereignty with such disdain? Equally seriously, what was Pakistan’s military doing as American troops and helicopters violated its land and air space? The helicopters had surely flown from Afghanistan whence they returned.
Details of how the Americans learned about Osama’s whereabouts are more the material of spy fiction, laced with typical American bravado and abilities meant to boost their sagging prestige than reality on the ground. The fact, however, is the episode has left many Pakistani officials red-faced. Some obvious questions remain unanswered.
Did the Pakistanis, especially the military and its highly touted Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not know that Osama was hiding in an expensive compound ringed by high walls and barbed-wire fence? The compound is barely a mile away from the prestigious military academy. Was there no surveillance or security? Was it Pakistani incompetence in not knowing or they were complicit in keeping Osama there under protection? These are serious questions that will have grave repercussions for Pakistan.
But first let us deal with some other parts of this bizarre story. The Americans say one of their helicopters involved in the assault crashed due to technical problems. It is curious to note that American helicopters always run into technical difficulties at the most critical moments. America must make lousy helicopters. According to reports from Abbottabad, there was heavy gunfire prior to the arrival of helicopters. Was one of them shot down as it tried to land in the sprawling compound? American officials have since changed their story to say the helicopter rotor hit a wall causing it to crash but quickly added all those on board were unhurt.
Initial reports said Osama’s body had been taken to Afghanistan together with members of his family — wife and son. A little while later, it was announced that he had been buried at sea. Obviously, it was not in Afghanis-tan; there is no sea there nor does landlocked Afghanistan have a coastline. Besides, why was he buried at sea? This is against Islamic law and the Americans insist they respect Islam and the US is not against Muslims. If Osama was buried at sea, it is a strange way to show respect for Islamic practices, regardless of how bad Osama may have been. Even he is entitled to proper burial.
Further, what happened to his family? The Americans have issued conflicting reports. Initially, they said Osama tried to “hide” behind a woman who was shot and killed before Osama himself, given codename Geronimo, was shot in the head. The Americans also said he had tried to resist arrest and that he was armed. Later, this story was revised. Osama was unarmed and he had not tried to hide behind the woman who was presumably his wife who went to the bedroom door on the third floor to see what the commotion was as American soldiers clambered up the stairs in the well-guarded house. According to the latest American version, his wife was shot and wounded in the leg.
Pakistani military and foreign office officials have said women and children taken from the compound were treated at the nearby military hospital. They will be sent to the countries of which they are nationals, presumably to Saudi Arabia and/or Yemen. The compound where Osama lived apparently belonged to two Pashtun brothers from Charsadda. They lived with their families — wives and children — and aroused no suspicion as they went about their lives as any average family would do. When neighbours asked what they did for a living, according to Pakistani media reports, they were evasive. Their oft-repeated explanation was that they had a hotel in Dubai from where their uncle sent them money. Another explanation was that they were money-changers. This is a common practice in that part of the world.
Two questions, however, will remain unanswered. First, was Osama really buried at sea or the Americans simply made this up so that regardless of where he is buried (presumably in Afghanistan) his grave would not become a shrine for fellow militants. The more important question is whether the ISI was really unaware of Osama? How they are going to explain this to the Americans and what will follow next are really loaded questions. As of now, the story of Osama’s “burial at sea” raises more questions than gives answers. In the world of espionage and terrorism, there are never any straight answers.
With the man on America’s most wanted list, this is even more so. Besides, we must not forget that Osama was America’s creation. Had he finally lost his usefulness and are the Americans just looking for a face-saving way out of Afghanistan? If so, his removal from the scene would facilitate this American objective since the war in Afghanistan is lost. With Osama out of the picture, there is simply no reason for American or indeed NATO troops to be there.