US raid a blow to Pakistan spy agency

Osama bin Laden’s killing by United States commandos in the shadow of Pakistan’s version of West Point has dealt a major blow to the nation’s top intelligence agency, exposing it for either sheer incompetence or complicity.

While Pakistan is officially a key ally in the US-led “war on terror”, the discovery that Bin Laden lived undisturbed in a $1-million villa under the noses of the military has fuelled suspicions that it has played a double game.

For years Pakistani leaders said Bin Laden was either dead or abroad, but it took a US hit squad just 40 minutes to raid his house and fly off with the body, a mere 50km from the capital.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has been killed in a firefight with US forces in Pakistan ending a nearly 10-year worldwide hunt for the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. Watch our slideshow.

Despite the accusations of complicity, none of Pakistan’s military leaders or intelligence chiefs have come out publicly to comment on the daring US raid in Abbottabad, a town home to an elite military academy.

Instead civilian leaders, whose own relationship with the military is far from close, have denied the country knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, exposing its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to charges of crushing failure.

“Intelligence failures are not unique to the ISI,” Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, told Agence France-Presse by telephone. “We will inquire into the causes of what happened but it’s really important not to turn it into any allegation of complicity.”

Key political role
The ISI, formed in 1948 shortly after independence from British rule, plays a key political role in Pakistan, which has spent more than half its 64-year existence under military rule.

It funnelled weapons bought with US cash to Muslim fighters battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, a war that spawned al-Qaeda.

The organisation has been credited with creating the Taliban, the Islamist militia that fought its way to power in Kabul in 1996 and ruled until the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in the US.

But ever since Islamabad sided with America’s war against Bin Laden, the West and arch-foe India have harboured suspicions that Pakistan, and particularly elements within the ISI, failed to cut ties with the Taliban.

Barely 10 days before the Bin Laden operation, top US military officer Mike Mullen accused the ISI of having a long-standing relationship with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network.

“That does not mean everybody in ISI, but it is there,” he said.

Some Western analysts suspect the ISI is not unified, with elements increasingly seeing militants as a domestic threat after Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked bombings killed more than 4 240 people in Pakistan in the past four years.

US President Barack Obama announces the death of Bin Laden:

Pakistan has traditionally seen India as the enemy, nurturing Islamist groups to fight in India-administered Kashmir and fostering the Taliban in Afghanistan to offset the growing might of its eastern neighbour.

All-time low
But while both sides have attested to good cooperation between the ISI and the CIA, at least on a working level, Bin Laden was killed when, from a public perspective at least, ties were at an all-time low.

Earlier this year Pakistan and the US were at loggerheads over Pakistan’s detention of a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, who was arrested after killing two men in broad daylight and accused by police of double murder.

He was released only after $2-million in blood money was paid to families of the dead men, and in the subsequent fallout the ISI reportedly demanded that the CIA cut back legions of operatives and special forces from its territory.

The US said it did not notify Pakistan about the Bin Laden operation until the helicopter-borne commandos had cleared Pakistani air space, citing the need to maintain complete secrecy around the covert operation.

Given the trust deficit, Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul said it was unsurprising the US didn’t inform the ISI of its plans, and he struggled to believe that nobody within Pakistan’s spy agency knew where Bin Laden was.

“At least some people within the security apparatus would have probably known,” he said.

“A lot of people within the bureaucracy, within the military establishment, the society, came to support and adore Osama bin Laden and his mission against the United States,” he said.—AFP

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