In Pakistan, bewilderment

May 6, 2011

Cyril Almeida at Dawn has written a powerful and anguished column about the bewilderment among many Pakistanis on discovering that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, a garrison town in the heart of the country and home to the Pakistan Military Academy.

“It’s too frightening to make sense of. The world’s most-wanted terrorist. A man who triggered the longest war in American history. The terrorist mastermind the world’s only superpower has moved heaven and earth to track down. A decade of hunting. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent. The blood of countless Americans and others spilled. And when he was finally found, he was found wrapped in the bosom of the Pakistani security establishment.”

“Did they know he was here? Surely, they knew he was here? Nobody has come out and said it openly yet. It’s too early, the story still unfolding. Ask the question in private, though, and with hand on heart, no one will say anything but, yes, they knew he was there,” he wrote.  “Grim questions are etched on anxious faces, but so is fear of the answers. Proud men and women, people who love and serve their country, have cried as they connect yet another dot in the horrifying trajectory this country is on.”

The mixed messages given out in public or private after President Barack Obama announced on Monday that U.S. forces had flown unnoticed deep into  Pakistan and killed bin Laden, have left many dazed about what really happened. Had Pakistan at least helped in some way by providing the intelligence that  led to bin Laden? President Barack Obama had specifically mentioned counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan.  Or did Pakistanis have to face up to the possibility that the Americans had acted entirely alone — hoodwinking the country’s powerful army — and that perhaps, as Almeida writes, “they knew he was there”.

A government statement said that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency ”had been sharing information with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009″ about the compound where bin Laden was killed. But that statement, described by columnist Ejaz Haider as “nonsense at its most nonsensical” was even more confusing — if the ISI knew about the compound in 2009, why did it not take action?

Towards the end of the week, the “authorised” version of events filtered out from a briefing given by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to senior Pakistani journalists.

Pakistan had not known in advance about the U.S. plans, but nor had it known that bin Laden was there, wrote Time magazine’s Omar Waraich, who had spoken to some of those present at the briefing. “Kayani was adamant that the Pakistanis had no idea that bin-Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. “We had no clear, actionable information on Osama bin-Laden,” he told the journalists. “If we had it, we would have acted ourselves. No one would have questioned our performance for ten years. It would have raised our international prestige.”

Najam Sethi at The Friday Times in his account of what appeared to be the same briefing, gave the first properly coherent explanation of how the United States and Pakistan had managed to square the circle of saying they had shared intelligence while acting alone.   It’s worth quoting at length, since in the weeks and months ahead, this is likely to be the story that will have to survive scrutiny if the two countries are to carry on working together — something both countries need to do in their own interests, irrespective of the distrust.

“Sometime in 2009, an ISI wiretap picked up a conversation in Arabic between a Sim card in Nowshera and another in Saudi Arabia. The conversation was brief and hinted at financial matters. This transcript was passed on to the CIA for processing. Three months later, in 2010, the same Sim woke up to another conversation in Arabic, this time from Peshawar to Saudi Arabia. Again, the transcript was passed on to the CIA. There were four other occasions that year when the same Sim was used, once from a location in Waziristan and the last one actually from the compound in Abbotabad, and all the transcripts and location details were passed on to the CIA. The ISI took the view that its Intel apparatus was focused on the Pashto or Punjabi speaking Taliban in FATA and elsewhere in the country and Arabic speaking Al-Qaeda terrorists were the responsibility of the CIA.

“Meanwhile, the CIA analysed the transcripts and followed all the clues until the last one led them to the compound in Abbotabad. When the CIA homed in on it in February via ground and satellite surveillance in 2011, it was convinced that a very high value target was living in it, possibly OBL. They found it unbelievable because of its location in the military’s backyard. The consensus view was that an exclusive and secret operation should be launched to get their man because the ISI couldn’t be trusted with a joint operation. The CIA just wasn’t sure whether the ISI was hiding OBL because it was the ISI that had provided the lead to the Sim card and transcripts that led the CIA to the compound in Abbotabad.

“This explains two statements made by senior US officials. President Obama said the operation benefited from “counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan’s Intel agencies that led the CIA to the compound in which OBL was living”. The CIA chief said they couldn’t mount a joint operation because they didn’t want leaks in the ISI by rogue elements to jeopardize it.”

The explanation has an internal coherence and brings together the U.S. and Pakistani narratives that they had shared intelligence, even as the United States later acted alone.  It does not begin to give all the answers, but it does provide some useful details to work on.

 In 2010, for example, the ISI, according to this explanation, picked up a conversation in Arabic from a particular SIM card.  That same SIM card was used “once from a location in Waziristan and the last one actually from the compound in Abbottabad”.  It’s terribly easy to criticise other people’s mistakes in hindsight, but what would you conclude if you had a link between an Arabic speaker, Waziristan, and the compound?  Leave it to the CIA?

Or was this a question of an overworked junior officer failing to join the dots? With every new explanation we get, more questions need to be asked.


Now Pakistanis have started using the new line: “Some rogue elements inside ISI or military might have housed Bin Laden” ents-in-ISI-army-may-have-helped-Osama-M usharraf/H1-Article1-696360.aspx

Looks like Pak military and ISI have a couple of departments – Non state actor department and Rogue element department. Somehow they do things without the knowledge of the official top brass and put the nation under pressure.

There is no dearth of creativity for lies in Pakistan. If rogue elements could build a nice farm house right next to an army enclave and house Bin Laden there for five odd years, how difficult is it for the same rogue elements to seize the nukes or set the country on fire? Mumbai attacks were carried out by “rogue elements” or “non state actors”? Which one of them is being run by Major Iqbal? How long do you guys think you can fool everyone? On one side Pak military is supposed to be professional, united, modern, mighty, and what not, according to the posters here. So where did rogue elements suddenly arise from? And why would they do anything against their own country’s dignity and self respect?

The next raid inside Pakistan to finish off another key militant will make a complete mockery of the entire system in Pakistan.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

As keith put in her previous post, the desire for revenge against India blinds the elite of pakistani establishment which is the fundemental problem. Although they do not formally speak of against this desire, it is very much evident in their actions. Destined to be small economic player vis-a-vis India, their only option of taking on India is unravelling a low intensity warfare. This will end for frustrating the enemy at some point and makes it to take irrational decisions.

The US has become the pakistan’s enemy the day musharraf was threatened by Americans to be with us or against us. Foreseeing a disaster, Pakistani’s opted to ostensibly work with the Americans but their gameplan was to eventually tireout the Americans while all along taking their money and pretending to work for them. Americans believed initially that pakistan may be,just maybe willing to break off their suicidal policy and were flirting with the Idea that solving kashmir would inevitably solve the Afghan problem.But it was not to be.

No matter who asks , Pakistan wont backtrack from its policy of low intensity warfare against Indian because its the only option to keep India bogged down in Kashmir (atleast it hopes are pinned on it).
When Indians started to keep the conflict restricted to Kashmir, the frustrated Pakistani establishment went out all the way to open a new front outside Kashmir (read Mumbai).

Most Indians were believing that the Case of Kashmir is entirely the fault of Pakistan, but after reading from so many journals and from neutral sources, we see in the last decade that Indians no longer claim completely innocent of their actions. They now believe that India had made grave mistakes in rigging the consecutive elections in 83 and 89 which resulted in the orgin of kashmir insurgency which pakistan happily stoked fires. Our more than moderate,tolerant culture and respect for different opinions embedded by our educational system(as well by socio-political institutions) resulted in accepting this truth.

The case for Pakistanis is different where the state orchestrated a irrational and delusional theory of greatness of Islamic rule and ceaseless hatred for India reflected in their text books (children of Zia) eventually ended up making pakistanis intolerant,one-sided, lack of uniqueness in their approach (a kind of rotary behavior or herd mentaility), when sorrounded we see them making delusions of grandeur about Islam, chest-thumping, victimization, sudden ray of hope and finally a prophecy for the world. With such a population which establishment of the world wont be envious of pakistani establishment!! Even revolutions fizzle out without making any basic changes to the statecraft.

Pervez hoodbhoy elequently puts it his article “Why do they pick on us Pakistanis? ” odbhoy/

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive


In your argument with KeithZ, you bring the case of a mentally sick man who hid a girl in the basement in a nice neighborhood for years.

This is a very flimsy argument. In the case of OBL, he was being hunted by the world’s largest super power. More than anything else, the radars are supposed to be watching every crow and dog that moves inside Pakistan. The amount of resources being used for this hunt is probably a million times more than the abducted girl’s case where a police system with limited resources is used to trace her.

You do not have to take any responsibility for any of what happened. You are an ordinary citizen. Your country’s military has committed a criminal act, knowingly. Without the blessings and support of your military nothing can move inside Pakistan or outside of it. If OBL could “fool” your military, then explain to me how Balochi rebels and other anti-state activists are unable to hide inside Pakistan? Your military is hand in glove with Islamic terrorists of all kinds because of its India obsession. It has become like a mentally sick patient. As more “truths” emerge, your military is going to be purged by the US, nukes or not. Changes happen in Pakistan at the command from the US. Your democratic government is surviving because of the US. Kayani has not staged coup because of the US. He will also be replaced and your system cleansed by the US. Watch the events that are about to unfold. Your chest thumping has become a laughing stock. Try not to make a fool out of yourself in defense of these corrupt clowns.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Musharraf says in the article I quoted above,

“It’s really appalling that he was there and nobody knew. I’m certainly appalled that I didn’t know and that intelligence people from that time onward didn’t know for six years that he was inside”

If at all there is the best crook, the title goes to Musharraf. He was the guy who made double dealing and deception into an art. He lied openly that no Pak soldier was involved in Kargil war and changed the statement many years later. He sponsored Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Afghanistan. He fooled the Bush administration by pretending to be an ally on war on terrorism. He arranged to airlift all Pak army regulars,Taliban and Al Qaeda militants from Kunduz and hid them in different parts of Pakistan. He headed the illegal nuclear proliferation scheme and used AQ Khan as a scape goat to cover up all the actions. Now he says rogue elements might have hidden OBL. He was the head of that rogue army. The US needs to arrest him and bring him to justice. It is because of him the war on terror has reached a near dead end. He is responsible for setting things on fire and pretending to be fire fighting. Extradite Musharraf from London and put him in jail. He will reveal a lot more truth if given a vacation in Guantanamo bay.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

“You know the case of Jaycee Dugard she was kidnapped as teenage girl, kept for 20 years in a backyard in California and when discovered her kidnapper had children with her. Things happen, the world is too small a place yet to big to live in. How OBL managed to be in Pakistan, certainly there is no justification.” Posted by Umairpk

How’s that analogous? One is a deranged kidnapper & the other is the world’s most wanted terrorist. If you want to compare OBL living in Abottabad for 6 yrs, compare it with OBL living in West Point or Sandhurst for 6 yrs. There are unapprehended criminals in every country, the US is no different.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

So most people believe now that Osama is dead, and was killed by “WE”, the most misused and probably misleading word in this decade, and mentioned by the current President of the United States. Two choppers went into a sovereign country ( contraveinng UN charter)with special force and supposedly killed at least one unarmed person and returned to base with one chopper having lost the other chopper (perhaps out of nervousness or fear of dectection by the Pakistan army?), carrying a dead body and loads of videos and a full size library with them.

The body is claimed to have been thrown into the sea, according to muslim customs and the DNA proved that the dead man was OSAMA BIN LADEN, says the USA President.

Mission accomplished, but without any clarity and therefore Pakistan Govt. is being asked to clarify the whole matter and even allow USA interrogaters to approach the assumed wife of the deceased. According to Mr Obama Mr Bin Laden must have had support from within Pakistan to stay undetected(by whom?)for such a long period. Very bright conclusion?

What a diabolic story for the birds, no trial of the criminal and no body to prove the deceased man’ guilt. Europe has awakened to the new set of values being established by the current USA administartion and the vulgar display of celebrations of the mob in today’s christian country of America at the death of a human. Even the German chancellor slipped and had to be reminded by the clergy including the Pope that no christian is to show happiness on the death of a human.

A country of law does not entitle even the President of a country to follow the methods of a lawless terrorist to carry out the justice. UNO is under pressure to investigate the incident and the USA administration is being asked politely to explain its action.

I doubt if even the the incompetent Pakistan leaders are likely to accept any more crap from their unreliable and distrustworthy ally in future dealings.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

When are they going to ban opium cultivation?

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

“When are they going to ban opium cultivation?”


Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

When is India going to take back the sikh community which they so cleverly exported to Europe and North America under the pretext of voluntary asylum. Perhaps Indiia could control the population growth by following the Chinese example or the good old pharaoh who ordered the killing of first born one among the immigrant workers?
No personal attack is intended, simply a practical proposal to reduce Indian out of control growth in the world. The world resources are limited and there must be some alternative to war!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

In general Jihadi terrorists, and their supporters tend to be racially prejudiced and bigoted individuals.

Mindset is minor, but prejudice is major.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive

Someone needs to remind the psycho jihadi mullah, complaining about “world population growth” that muslims contribute to that growth more than any other group; growth rate amongst muslims is almost twice that of non-muslims. Someone needs to put a lid on that gutter already. The rat seems to be coming up, way too often!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Rat? :-)

More like jihadi cockroach. Pestilence is visiting.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive

Amazing to see Indian population control figuring here in Pakistan article/blog and that too by a supposed German “muslim”. Height of bigotry.

BTW does this bigot know who in India is against strict implementation uniform civil code?? Or what is the proposed UCC in India?? The typical indication of bigotry is that bigots speak too much and display their extreme lack of knowledge.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

I thought we had agreed not to respond to this person.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

The most difficult task in intelligence professions is the CONNECTION OF DOTS. You do want us to believe that white house story is a genuine one and it was old Osama who got killed and thrown into the sea. For argument sake let us agree with the current President that Osama was unarmed and killed by the highly trained commandos. Now please recall the history of CIA failures in connecting the dots accurately and timely? The Sept. 11 terrorist attack could have very well been prevented!
Now guess how many members of the CIA, ISI and M16 are participating actively as bloggers in Reuers Blog? Not to mention Pakistan next door neighbouring country who along with the intelligence operatives have also sent in several PR propagandists to appear on this blog and to engage Pakistani bloggers?

I have not included the langley operation which is monitoring all the data live!!
It is all a matter of connecting the DOTS! Today’s intelligence networks are relativel y well advanced, but are slow in response on account of the mega data which computers and then humans have to sift through after which they are able to connect the dots. It is almost mission impossible and then slow.

Remember the cold war was won by the west because they were too many and became too good in the dots game versus their adversaries.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

I Thank Rex for reminding the question of population growth. As Ganesh pointed out, there is little point in reasoning with this Guy, who thinks We bloggers are CIA agents, wish I were.. atleast I might have had a good spooky proud job of acting as spy blogger to defend what is zionist-christina-Hindu conspiracy to defame pakistan rather than just bloody code developer. Can’t stop laughing at that when I read.

And “langley ..” what? A system that processes zetabytes of information that is generated everyday! I had a bad day at office today but you made my day. :-)

But Seriously the Question of population growth is a serious issue which should be dealt with seriously, first by understanding it.
After the failure of Malthusian theory that we cannot feed a growing population and which had to wait for catastrophic consequences (obviously his IQ did not support the idea of innovation and science), the new economic theory states that population growth has three phases in a decently forward looking progressing nation.

In the first phase, the population growth is slow as both death rates (owing to low expectancy and high fatality rate at birth) with high birth rates keep the population tab in control.

In the second phase when serious reforms take root, the population growth surges with better medical facilities which result in better life spans and improved child mortality and survivable rates. This is also the time when governments call it their youth bulge and will invest hugely in social sector aka, Education and infrastructure to support low end jobs owing to high population.

In the final phase population grows older as the youth bulge pushes itself into later part of the old age. The next generation with larger old populations to feed will have to invest excessive amount of GDP to their welfare and a desire for middle class families (and lower middle class) to lead better economic lifestyles will limit the number of children.Governments invest in higher education,innovation and better resource utilization. The populatin stabilizes with high percapita incomes.

Now the catch here is, while all the western societies transformed their populations as stated above. One doesn’t understand why they decry when India does the same thing! western People visiting in the forums fume at our population growth but never remember that it is our demand for good that is fuelling their exports. No, they wont remember that. Australia completely depends on chinese and Indian demand for raw materials.

They don’t remember that we are no longer dependent on their food and that we produce our own food and export in large quantities. No they wont remember it.

They need us to fuel their Industrial demand but ostracise us when we become competetive to them (more so in hitech sectors).

Their own economists say that we are in the same phase that American baby boomer generation was in 50′s and will in all possibilities follow their phenomenon. And the most important issue during this transition phase is whether we are growing with the speed we need to grow to create enough job oppurtunities. Economists say that during this second phase (baby boomer) a country should atleast grow 3 times as fast as population growth for atleast a generation say 30 years. If India’s populaton growth rate is 1.5 percent (I adjusted to higer possible range) we should atleast grow 4.5 percent, well have they noticed we are growing double that 4.5 percent.

In retrospective, pakistan with arount 2 percent of population growth rate, is growing at around 4 percent but should grow atlest 6 to 8 percent to create enough jobs for avoiding the pull of youth by extremists. Continued bombings in pakistan is the best statement to your politicians and establishment that you are not focussing enough on that and ther’s a blowback effect.
Infact lack of progessive attitude will result in perennially growing youth bulge and result in Malthusian nightmares.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive

Re: Population growth

I’ve been on this blog for a couple of years & I’ve seen Umair go from “we’re a proud nation of 150 million muslims with nukes” TO “we’re a proud nation of 200 million muslims with nukes”. Now that’s some growth, keep it up Pakistan ;)

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive


Appreciate your simplified explanation which I think I understood! But it has helped in my understanding of the theory. Maybe it is old hat to the others but I have learnt something.

I understand zilch of all these theories, except superficially. My perspective is from what I see around me and my limited experience. With that yardstick, I would say India to-day is in the second stage of this growth theory. Many see this young able bodied and educated youth as a spur to better performance, which is right.

I do have one major worry about the future, specially when it comes to a country like India or any other specially in this part of the world. Before we know it, this youth will be middle aged and retired. Because we have no forward looking social security network in our countries, when we get to the final phase, these same people who were considered assets will be treated as liabilities. In fact a few years ago when Chidambram was the finance minister there was talk going around that pensions should be only till 75 years. I think this is going to be our undoing in a few years time, likewise for China.

We have to plan now and prepare for when we have this huge elderly bulge in our population. What baffles me is that none of our so called intellectuals and analysts even vaguely touches on this. It is almost as if throwing up of hands and saying nothing to be done, just let them rot in their old age.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

If you went to an extraterrestrial planet and saw this going on, would you land?

Posted by lillian_g | Report as abusive

before the indian bloggers use this space to discuss their domestic social security issues, reuters has a separate blog fo the indian issues, let me suggest to pakistani leaders that they stop displaying medals on the chest from now on.
being a strategic partner of usa means nothing more than being colonised by the imperialist usa. no other country in the world would allow their infra struczure for use by foreign convoys without any toll and custom duty. pakistan current civilian govt. is made up of incompups!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive


I have a few brief questions and would appreciate if you answer:

1. What is your position on Kashmir, do you think that dispute with India causes all the strategic depth/nurture terrorists argument against Pakistan’s security establishment? Do you think resolution of disputes with India will make Pakistan a better country?

2. What is your position on India, do you agree they are Pakistan’s enemy no. 1 posing an existential threat?

3. Given CIA’s clandestine network, its adversareial relations with ISi, is it true there is an outside hand in destabilizing Pakistan? To put it bluntly, is CIA working against Pakistan?

4. Despite all of Pakistan efforts, if the war is lost in Afghanistan, will Pakistan be punished? If yes in what way (diplomatic isolation, sanctions etc.) ?

5. Lets suppose Pakistan gives up its strategic depth/harboring terror/double game policy etc. Pakistan accepts all demands placed on it. In return will the US and west force India to settle Kashmir dispute?



Apologies for a delayed response. But here’s my take

1) Kashmir is for Pakistan, India and Kashmir to sort out. The rest of us really don’t care. We only worry about it because there’s the faint possibility that the dust from a mushroom cloud might come our way.

I really don’t think, however, that militancy in Pakistan is caused solely by Kashmir and/or that it will be solved if Kashmir is solved. We’ve seen Kashmiri Jihadists increasingly become associated with the global Jihadist movement. If they are already branching out, why would they suddenly close up shop if Kashmir is solved.

2) From everything I have seen in my career, I do not believe that India is an existential threat to Pakistan…ANY MORE. In the past, maybe. But then, the situation of having a country divided, with a large adversary in between was always tenuous at best.

Pakistanis are free to believe what they want. But I (and most analysts around the world) are hard-pressed to see what benefit would accrue to India from Pakistan becoming unstable or collapsing. If you have any ideas, I’d like to hear them. I have to come across any hypothetical scenario where India gains on its security from a fractured Pakistan. They simply end up trading one threat (the PA) for another (fanatic anti-India jihadis). If you think differently, articulate it for us.

3) Same as 2. I’m not going to discuss conspiracy theories with you. I generally don’t like getting my blood pressure up by talking to the insane. All I will suggest is that there is no logic and zero security gains to be made by anyone from an unstable Pakistan. Forget unstable. Even left to their own devices while stable and semi-prosperous, Pakistanis can cause global security headaches (AQ Khan network). I can only imagine the arms bazaar that Pakistan’s generals will run if the country becomes unstable. This is not in anybody’s interest.

4) Yes. I’m sorry, but Pakistan just has not done enough. Yes, Pakistan has had thousands of soldiers die. But at least some of that blood is on the hands of Pakistanis who have chosen to shelter and support those who would kill innocents in the West, in India, in Afghanistan and even in Pakistan. Unless Pakistan comes fully clean post-Afghanistan, I cannot foresee anything but isolation. Once the world is not being held hostage by supply lines running through Pakistan, there will be very little leverage for Pakistanis to get out of truly being held accountable. At that point, it will be decision time. Make your bed with killers and you will be isolated.

5) How can the US and the West force India to “solve” Kashmir? We really have no real leverage over India. It is however, in the interest of the West to encourage India to settle the Kashmir dispute. And I would actually suggest that it is also in India’s long-term interests to solve this problem.

More broadly, I don’t see why Afghanistan should be tied to Kashmir. Is a stable Afghanistan not in Pakistan’s interest too?

But on Kashmir itself. “Solving” this is going to be quite hard. Everyone loves to bring up the UN resolution. Most don’t know what it says. It requires full withdrawal of all Pakistani forces from Kashmir (and that’s AK and Gilgit-Baltistan). It’s also debateable as to how valid a plebiscite would be today given that both sides have seen significant demographic changes. The Pakistani portions have seen huge influxes of non-Kashmiris from other parts of Pakistan. And the Indian side has seen an exodus of groups like the Pandits and other minorities because of violence against them. Would Pakistan agree to a full military withdrawal in accordance with the UNSCR? And would both sides agree to a plebiscite only applying to the original inhabitants of the region (and/or their descendants)?

And what about if the Kashmiris just want independence? What if they don’t want India or Pakistan? Are both countries willing to honour their wishes in such a scenario (which is certainly a possible outcome)?

So when you say that you want the West and the USA to compel India to “solve” Kashmir, you can understand that the situation is quite complex and the West would much rather that Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris work it out themselves.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

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