BY COL (RETD.) RAJINDER SINGH
On the midnight 01/02 May 2011 (early morning of May 2, 2011 IST), US President Barack Obama announced the killing of most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden. He was allegedly killed at Abbottabad in Pakistan’s erstwhile NWFP, some 61 kms from Pakistani capital Islamabad.
Osama’s hideout was a three-storied building in the Abbottabad Military Cantonment and some 500 meters away from Pakistan’s ‘Kakul Military Academy’, which trains its officers for Pakistan Army. Besides three army units, the area is the habitat of senior retired army/ISI officers. It is not easy for a civilian to construct such a big house without the knowledge and approval of military authorities. According to the available information, the construction of the house began in 2003 and was completed in 2005. Spread over 3000 square yards, the house had a 18 feet wall around it. This establishes the fact that ISI had kept him in safe custody, nearest to Islamabad but at a safe distance.
So, was Bin Laden betrayed by ISI of Pakistan? I think it is so. Remember, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Director General of ISI, had recently visited US for a strategic dialogue. Thus, there was a deal struck on Osama and Afghanistan. I see three possibilities of how this ‘Operation Osama’, with an alleged codeword “Geronimo-E-KIA’ was conducted:
Point 1: The US totally outwitted ISI and Pakistan Army. It is possible but most improbable. Walking out with a dead body from a military cantonment area, which was a safe house and must have been under the prying eyes of Pakistan Army, is highly questionable. There has to be some kind of ISI collusion. I have following reasons:
- Abbottabad is heavily fortified cantonment with three army regiments and a military academy located at an hour’s drive from Islamabad. We all know that no one can construct a civil house within a cantonment without the approval of military authorities. This would tell you that Osama bin Laden was under the direct protection of Pakistan army and ISI.
- If we accept the above mentioned fact, then there was no question of US operation being conducted in such a computerized precision unless ISI had bartered away an old but a dying militant who had served his purpose. Therefore there has been a secret deal between US and Pakistan on Osama. Pakistan not only did the job but assisted US military SEALs to escape. Note the following: Three explosions and a heavy exchange of fire at the building, probably under watch since 2005, yet the army authorities were not alerted and they did not react.
- It is stated that US Navy SEALs allegedly walked away with the dead body, after destroying the malfunctioning helicopter. Where did they walk to? Of course, it was to their ‘facilitating base’ established by ISI in Abbottabad military garrison.
- I have had the experience of conducting raids on pin-pointed militant hideouts but it is not easy to finish off such an operation within 40 minutes, whatever US technical superiority. Did some insider guide them to the underground shelter?
Point 2: He was already dead due to kidney failure and Pakistan bargained with US for a dead body and rest was a drama, well managed by US. But this is the least likely scenario. However there are some commentators who feel that Osama had probably died in 2002 and it was only a drama enacted now. But I do not agree with this. I think he had become a liability for Pakistan and he had to be gotten rid off. So the ISI did it in a cleverest underhand deal.
Point 3: Osama was betrayed by the ISI and bartered for a deal over Afghanistan and possibly for Kashmir too. A pliable regime for Pakistan in Afghanistan would help them achieve their long cherished dream of ‘strategic depth’ against India. Despite all denials from both sides, I consider this scenario the most. One of the two possibilities might be there. Firstly, Osama was already killed by ISI and later US Navy SEALs came and picked up his body under the drama of an operation. Or ISI had not only guided the Navy SEALs but facilitated and provided them logistic and operational support. I bet on first possibility. My reasons are simple:
- ISI had fixed some kind of a meeting with Osama and he had asked for more milk and some sleeping suits for that day (he was expecting some guests that day so additional milk packets and some eight Payjamas for the guests). Sure there is something to it. This has been revealed by locals in TV interviews.
- There are no signs of struggle and resistance in the room and this has been stated by an army officer of Pakistan Army to Geo News of Pakistan.
- As claimed by the same officer, Osama was shot by his bodyguard at point blank range, allegedly not to allow him to fall into the US hands alive. But I feel he was killed by the bodyguard as a pre-planned signal between ISI and body guard who was bought over and later killed too. I believe it was an inside job rather than of a military operation.
- One would also like to draw some inference from President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari’s article in Washington Post on May 03, 2011, where he has obliquely hinted on facilitating this operation. He claimed that Pakistan played its part.
Osama has been bartered away by ISI for gains in Afghanistan and Kashmir. India has to watch out in the coming months, when US/West would turn a blind eyes to Pakistan’s mischief in Kashmir. This is the deal. This is why Pakistan had risked exposing itself to having him killed in Pakistan. Pakistan knows that whole world had already known of Osama’s presence in Pakistan. Therefore embarrassment, if any was much lesser than the deal it has got. Those of you who think that it was a loss of face for Pakistan are under a wrong impression. The ISI had this clever way to get rid of him — HEENG LAGI NA FATKADI.
Now the question arises as to why would Pakistan like to dispose off Osama? The reason is simple: it had become costly to keep him alive anymore under the mounting US pressure. We all know that war on terror had fetched Pakistan some $19.66 billion between 2002 and 2010 as part of a frontline state of this anti-terror war. It is estimated that some $13.36 billion was for military aid, which was diverted somewhere else. The US knew of this misuse but turned a blind eye in hope of getting Osama, its biggest enemy.
As one commentator observed that between 2002 and 2008, the Pakistan military establishment made $500 million every year and the militant groups made $300 million from the haulage and cartage of US and NATO containers from Karachi to Kabul. Thus Osama was a hen that laid golden eggs for Pakistan. ‘Al Qaeda’ was nick-named ‘Al Faida’ (Profit) by some Pakistani bureaucrats. Thus, the boss of ‘Al Faida’ had to be not only protected but kept in a safest place. Nothing could have been more ideal place than Abbottabad military cantonment.
Pakistan Army had hidden him there for five to six years. A medical unit is located in the cantonment to look after Osama’s kidney problem. There were three army regiments for immediate protection and safety of Osama. It would be foolish to think that Osama was not under the care of ISI or Pak army. However, he had become a liability as Barack Hussain Obama became President of US. We must note three changes brought in by Obama administration to pressurize Pakistan. They were:
- Strings were tied to military aid by a Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation and it made it harder for the military to capture the funds.
- The Obama administration increased the number of drone strikes against targets in Pakistan, while increasing pressure on the Pakistani Army to go after the Taliban groups in its tribal areas.
- By indicating a deadline for withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Obama had drawn curtains on the usefulness of Al Faida boss. Osama had served its purpose for Pakistan and he had to go, sooner or later. Thus, a deal was worked out between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha of ISI some 20 days back when both met in the US. Such a clandestine operation was going to be a win situation for both.
Now let me briefly touch upon the acclaimed military operation by the US Navy SEALs. I do not question their capability and professionalism but the ease with which it has been stated to be carried out. I have conducted such raids on militant hideouts for 20 years and I know what is being claimed by US was an utter lie. Truth is somewhere else. I doubt if US could infiltrate its helicopters into such a safe place of a military cantonment without the prior knowledge and approval of Pak Army/ISI. There are three army regiments besides a military academy. Besides, there is a medical unit, which I suspect was looking after Osama’s dialysis and kidney problem. Even if US had surprised Pakistan military with this sudden blitzkrieg, the latter would have been alerted after explosions and exchange of fire. Then, quick reaction teams from Pak army would have been pressed into service. Funniest part of the US claim was that Osama’s body was carried away on foot. Surprising, such an incident taking place and Pak Army was sleeping till US SEALs had walked away. Were the US commandos strolling in a Meena Bazar or operating in a military cantonment?
US military operation might be a cover up game by Pakistan and the US. I suspect ISI had bartered him away for monetary gains and some kind of a deal over Afghanistan. There is something fishy about the whole thing. I reject the claim that Pakistan military/ISI was totally outwitted. This stance is to placate Pakistani public. I feel there has been an underhand deal where Mullah Omar, erstwhile supreme boss of Afghan Taliban, has been kept by ISI to facilitate US to work out a deal with him over Afghanistan, thus allowing US troops to begin pulling out by July 2011. Pakistan has probably got its bigger pie in Afghanistan. India, are you watching this?
Will the killing of Osama end international terrorism? If some people think so, they are sadly mistaken. Osama was a symptom of the disease not the disease itself, which in reality is the JIHADI FACTORIES run by ISI with its Pan-Islamic motives. As long as ISI exists, world cannot breathe free of terrorism.
Author Info: Col (Retd.) Rajinder Singh served in the Indian Army and has extensive experience in Counter Insurgency Operations.