So Osama bin Laden has not been hiding in Karachi or somewhere in the mountains of Waziristan; rather, he’s been in Abbottabad. Oh dear. There might be a place more embarrassing for Pakistan, but it is hard to think of one. It is yet further evidence that Pakistan, supposedly a key ally of the United States, has gone rogue.
Abbottabad is like West Point. Each is home to a nation’s top military academy. Each is close to a major city. In the case of Abbottabad, that is the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. It takes about an hour and half to drive — the same time that West Point’s website says it takes to the U.S. military academy from New York City.
A military town dating back to British India, Abbottabad is named for Major James Abbott, who founded it in 1853. Abbottabad is also where Pakistan’s retired military live. That was then, and this is now. Trust between the United States and Pakistan has been perilously thin since the 2001 attacks.
The need for a logistics base from which to go after al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan forced Washington to compromise on several points. Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities to Iran, Libya and North Korea were all too conveniently blamed on rogue scientist A. Q. Khan. The links between the terror attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai and the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence were slow to be established, at least publicly. Militarily, Pakistan’s help for U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan has been poor. Politically, the country has sought to actively undermine Washington.
But cooperation between the United States and Pakistan is a continuing need, so further diplomatic fudging might be necessary. This time it could be a tough sale. The Pakistan military and people have always been suspicious of clandestine CIA activities in Pakistan, as shown in the recent diplomatic cause célèbre of contractor Raymond Davis, who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore earlier this year.
Information about months of surveillance of bin Laden’s lair will exacerbate the paranoia of many Pakistanis. Until early Sunday morning, U.S. military operations in Pakistan officially sanctioned by the government were apparently limited to drone attacks on terrorist hideouts in the wild tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s embarrassment at being shown as having provided sanctuary to the world’s most wanted terrorist is likely to prompt diplomatic, military, political and public responses. It will be a miracle if the politicians in Islamabad or the army in nearby Rawalpindi confine themselves to a monstrous sulk.
Expect public protests. Abbottabad is part of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The local people — Pashtoons — are suspicious of foreigners, especially non-Muslims. But they provide hospitality and more importantly, sanctuary, to Muslims in need. Some, probably many, will regard the killing of bin Laden as being an affront to their culture.
Bin Laden’s death is the end of a chapter. But it is not the end of the story.
This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.