Ten years to pur­sue; 40 min­utes to kill: that is the sum to­tal of the Bin Laden saga.

Southasia - - Cover story - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

The end of Osama bin Laden.

In the wee hours of Sun­day, May 2, 2011, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs, in four he­li­copters alighted on a house in Ab­bot­tabad that shel­tered Osama bin Laden and his fam­ily. They killed him, one of his sons and three other men be­sides in­jur­ing his wife in her leg. One of the he­li­copters that had crashed was de­stroyed.

The raiders took away the bod­ies of Bin Laden and his son. Later, the White House an­nounced that Osama’s body was washed, wrapped in a shroud and, af­ter recit­ing the ri­tual Mus­lim prayer, was low­ered into the Ara­bian Sea from the deck of the air­craft car­rier, USS Carl Vin­son. But there was no men­tion of how they dis­posed of his mi­nor son’s corpse.

Osama’s death has rid the U.S. of a long night­mare. For ten years this man alone held the supreme world power in thrall. He bled Amer­ica eco­nom­i­cally and forced it into its long­est war in his­tory that killed more of its men than had died in 9/11.

Amer­i­cans went crazy with joy in Wash­ing­ton and New York at the re­port of Bin Laden’s death. But in Pak­istan, Afghanistan and In­done­sia, there were prayers for the de­parted soul. Ha­mas praised him and Afghan Tal­iban vowed re­venge.

Bin Laden was liv­ing in posh Ab­bot­tabad, within a stone’s throw of the Pak­istan Mil­i­tary Academy, in­stead of hid­ing in some un­der­ground cave in the in­ac­ces­si­ble ar­eas of the Af-Pak bor­der. As is com­mon in the area, the house stood on a sprawl­ing com­pound, with “12-18ft high walls, topped with barbed wire and two se­cu­rity gates. The main part of the res­i­dence was three storeys high ….with a third-floor ter­race, shielded by a pri­vacy wall.” But there was no tele­phone or in­ter­net con­nec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to west­ern news­pa­per re­ports and White House brief­ing af­ter the event, CIA chased var­i­ous leads about Bin Laden’s in­ner cir­cle, par­tic­u­larly his couri­ers, iden­ti­fy­ing one, “four years ago.”

In 2008, the CIA was able to form a rough idea of the lo­ca­tion where the courier and his brother lived, and in Au­gust last year they nar­rowed it down to a com­pound in Ab­bot­tabad.

“Last Au­gust, af­ter years of painstak­ing work by our in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, I was briefed on a pos­si­ble lead to bin Laden,” said Pres­i­dent Obama in his speech af­ter the event.

Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, “By Septem­ber, the CIA had de­ter­mined there was a strong pos­si­bil­ity that the hide­out was Bin Laden’s, and, by Fe­bru­ary, they were con­fi­dent they had the right lo­ca­tion.

In March, Obama be­gan chair­ing a se­ries of five na­tional se­cu­rity meet­ings. In the last of these, on Fri­day,

April 29, Obama “met his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Thomas Donilon, counter-terrorism ad­viser John O Bren­nan, and other se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity aides to go through the de­tailed plan to at­tack the com­pound and signed the for­mal or­ders au­tho­riz­ing it,” the pa­per said. But Obama chose to keep Pak­istan’s gov­ern­ment in the dark about the op­er­a­tion.

“We shared our in­tel­li­gence on this com­pound with no other coun­try, in­clud­ing Pak­istan,” a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told the NYT.

U.S. of­fi­cials told the Associated Press that at around 1.15 am lo­cal time on Mon­day, four U.S. mil­i­tary he­li­copters, car­ry­ing elite troops from Navy Seal Team Six, flew to Ab­bot­tabad, “un­der the di­rect com­mand of the CIA di­rec­tor, Leon Panetta, whose an­a­lysts mon­i­tored the com­pound from his con­fer­ence room.”

There has been a del­uge of state­ments from the White House since then, each con­tra­dict­ing the other and rais­ing wide­spread ques­tions about the pro­pri­ety, ethics and le­gal­ity of the ac­tion. Even Obama’s pompous rhetoric claim­ing that the op­er­a­tion was car­ried out “with ex­tra­or­di­nary courage and ca­pa­bil­ity,” as­sumes a hol­low ring.

There were at least 25 (some re­ports put the num­ber at 79) high­ly­trained and armed in­di­vid­u­als in pro­tec­tive gear us­ing night-vi­sion gog­gles. They had al­ready ap­pre­hended some other, more able-bod­ied in­di­vid­u­als in the house and bound their hands to­gether. They could have done the same with Bin Laden.

But Obama calls it ex­tra­or­di­nary courage and he is an hon­or­able man.

The White House has since ad­mit­ted that Bin Laden had no weapon. His daugh­ter, 12, has said that her fa­ther was cap­tured alive and then shot dead by U.S. Spe­cial Forces. And CIA di­rec­tor Leon Panetta has now told NBC that the troops’ or­ders were to kill him.

Reuters also re­ports that there was no re­sis­tance, no fire­fight, and pho­to­graphs taken an hour af­ter the raid show three dead men, other than OBL and his son, ly­ing in pools of blood. There were no weapons. But Obama claimed in his speech, “Af­ter a fire­fight, they killed Osama Bin Laden and took cus­tody of his body.” And he is an hon­or­able man.

The Most Rev. Rowan Wil­liams, Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, said “The killing of an un­armed man is al­ways go­ing to leave a very un­com­fort­able feel­ing be­cause it doesn’t look as if jus­tice is seen to be done.” But Pres­i­dent Obama said, “Jus­tice has been done.” And truly, he is an hon­or­able man.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the ac­tion, counter-terrorism ad­viser, John Bren- nan claimed at a White House brief­ing that Bin Laden was liv­ing in a “mil­lion-dol­lar-plus com­pound” and “hid­ing be­hind women who were put in front of him as a shield.”

But the next day this was ex­posed as a das­tardly lie, when White House spokesman Jay Car­ney de­nied that the vic­tim had used any woman as a shield. Be­sides, the Associated Press has since re­ported that “the four orig­i­nal plots of land that were joined to cre­ate the com­pound were bought for $48,000 in 2004 and 2005.”

Obama has re­jected pub­lic de­mand to re­lease the pic­ture of Bin Laden’s corpse, which fu­els the sus­pi­cion that out of sheer anger his killers had so man­gled his body with bul­lets that its pic­ture would not only ig­nite the wrath of Mus­lims but also the loathing of all fair-minded peo­ple.

Obama is us­ing the event as a PR scoop. His sag­ging stock has jumped up many points in the opin­ion polls. As an­other gim­mick the White House re­leased a pho­to­graph of the pres­i­dent and his aides in the sit­u­a­tion room watch­ing the ac­tion as it un­folded. But CIA di­rec­tor Leon Panetta re­vealed there was a 25 minute black­out dur­ing which the live feed from cam­eras mounted on the hel­mets of the U.S. Spe­cial Forces was cut off. And the whole op­er­a­tion took forty min­utes.

So what was Obama watch­ing? Mean­while, as Bin laden’s body was be­ing flown away, Pres­i­dent Zar­dari was com­pos­ing an op-ed piece for the Wash­ing­ton Post with vol­u­ble re­as­sur­ance of his un­flinch­ing loy­alty to the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion and peo­ple. It ap­peared on May 2.

The Pak­istan gov­ern­ment and par­tic­u­larly its mil­i­tary, stands ut­terly hu­mil­i­ated. How can it ex­plain Be­nazir’s state­ment in 2007 that Osama was dead and Rah­man Ma­lik’s re­sponse to a ques­tion about Bin Laden’s where­abouts in 2009, that he “had no clue?” He added that he did not be­lieve that Bin Laden was in the area. He had sent his fam­ily to Iran, so it made sense that he might have gone there him­self. “Al­ter­na­tively, he might be hid­ing in Saudi Ara­bia or Ye­men, or per­haps he was al­ready dead.”

How can the army, the ISI and the In­tel­li­gence Bu­reau ex­plain that they were un­aware that OBL had been liv­ing for six years in the vicin­ity of the Pak­istan Mil­i­tary Academy? How can they an­swer these per­ti­nent ques­tions from the Bri­tish Prime Min­ster, David Cameron and Sen. Carl Levin, among oth­ers?

The he­li­copter flight from Ba­gram to Ab­bot­tabad would have taken the raiders over (or near) three bases of the Pak­istani air force, in­clud­ing the very ac­tive army he­li­copter base at Tar­bela. A PAF spokesman has since claimed that the radars were fully func­tional. Maybe the PAF radar units could not pick them be­cause the SEALs were us­ing a new kind of stealth he­li­copters.

How­ever, from Ba­gram to Ab­bot­tabad and back, with 45 min­utes’ hov­er­ing time at the lo­ca­tion, is quite an ex­tended time for chop­pers to go with­out re-fu­elling, even with a dis­pos­able fuel tank. So there must have been a “for­ward base” where fuel bowsers re-fu­elled the chop­pers. Yet there is no word from any source on such a for­ward base.

In Pak­istan, the For­eign Of­fice and the army chief are pos­tur­ing to con­tain pub­lic out­rage. The For­eign Of­fice said that Pak­istan had been co­op­er­a­tive in in­tel­li­gence-gather­ing in the past. But on the next day it said, “This event of unau­tho­rized uni­lat­eral ac­tion can­not be taken as a rule” and “shall not serve as a fu­ture prece­dent for any state, in­clud­ing the U.S.”

Mean­while, the army chief has called for a re­duced U.S. pres­ence and or­dered an in­quiry into the in­tel­li­gence “de­ba­cle.” But still there is no one of­fer­ing res­ig­na­tion on this na­tional shame.

Tail­piece: Prime Min­is­ter Gi­lani who was hi­ber­nat­ing in the salu­bri­ous spring of France while Amer­ica was “in­vad­ing” the coun­try, en­ter­tained the par­lia­ment with a ram­bling speech that touched not only on the OBL is­sue but cov­ered other fields of Pak­istan’s for­eign re­la­tions as well, men­tion­ing In­dia, China and Afghanistan.

For­get­ting that, af­ter the Bin Laden episode the whole world is watch­ing Pak­istan with amuse­ment and some con­tempt, he laced his ha­rangue with the usual bravado that is con­gen­i­tal to Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and some re­marks that were ei­ther pal­pa­bly ris­i­ble or out­right inane.

For ex­am­ple, he cited sac­ri­fic­ing 30,000 Pak­istan troops in the an­titer­ror cru­sade for the nth time. He, “em­phat­i­cally” re­jected al­le­ga­tions of com­plic­ity or in­com­pe­tence as ab­surd. But the mas­ter­piece was his claim that “all in­tel­li­gence agen­cies of the world” failed to lo­cate bin Laden.

As if quot­ing from a book of proverbs, Gi­lani pon­tif­i­cated that “Uni­lat­er­al­ism runs the in­her­ent risk of se­ri­ous con­se­quences” and warned, “Let no one draw any wrong con­clu­sions. Any at­tack against Pak­istan’s strate­gic as­sets whether overt or covert will find a match­ing re­sponse; Pak­istan re­serves the right to re­tal­i­ate with full force.” But who this warn­ing was meant for he did not give any clue. If it was for In­dia or Amer­ica he was wast­ing his breath, for In­dia will never at­tack Pak­istan as it has never had. And Amer­ica does not care for it any­way. So, as the for­eign me­dia has dis­cov­ered, the bom­bast was for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion. The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

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