The South Asia Channel

The bin Laden aftermath: Pakistan caught in a web of lies

The bin Laden aftermath: Pakistan caught in a web of lies

With great passion last year, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, "I categorically deny the presence of Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and even Mullah Omar in any part of Pakistan."

Now, with the capture of bin Laden in Pakistan — only 40 miles from Malik’s office – it’s more difficult than ever to consider his statements, and those of his civil and military counterparts, credible.  Since 9/11, Pakistan’s leaders have been lying to the United States, neighboring countries, their own people, and even to one another about fundamental elements of the war on terror.

On 9/11, Washington told Islamabad it was faced with a choice: you’re either with us or with the terrorists.  Islamabad hedged its bets and basically chose both. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services remain allied with Afghanistan’s three major insurgent groups: Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami, and the network of longtime militant Jalaluddin Haqqani. Yet the same military and intelligence services have played an essential role in preventing major attacks on Western targets since 9/11, saving the lives of countless non-Pakistanis.

Pakistani troops have fought valiantly in their own war on terror — a civil war that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis, security personnel, innocent civilians, as well as militants and terrorists. 

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani commemorated his military servicemen’s sacrifices at the third annual martyrs’ day this weekend.  As he supplicated for the thousands of fallen Pakistani servicemen, the usually emotionless Kayani fought back his tears.  Kayani told the audience that Pakistan would not sell its national integrity — by inference, to the United States — for prosperity. But the real focus of his address was this: Pakistan faces a long-term fight against terrorists from within. 

Since the launch of major counterinsurgency operations in Swat in 2009, the Pakistan Army has launched a persistent information operations campaign to pit its populace against the set of militants it fights.  But it is dependent on stoking anti-American, not anti-al-Qaeda, sentiments.  The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and allies — in the language of the army and its allies in the Pakistani media — were not waging jihad, but fasad (mischief). They were fighting the Pakistan army not for its support of the United States in the war on terror, but because of an outside campaign to destabilize Pakistan, legitimize the seizure of its nuclear weapons, and potentially even break up the country.  And the terrorists were not simply sons of the soil motivated by revenge and poisoned by a bastardization of their religion – no, they were witting or unwitting agents of a CIA-Mossad-RAW [Indian intelligence] nexus aimed at destroying Pakistan. Al-Qaeda, an organization whose leaders have openly declared war on the Pakistani state, was rarely mentioned.

And so today it remains unclear what exactly happened during the fatal raid yesterday.  Were some elements of Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus aware of the operation? Did they give their consent? Did they even cooperate? Reports that the U.S. helicopters took off from the Ghazi airbase in Tarbela, where American Special Operations Forces have been training their Pakistani counterparts, suggests that there was some Pakistani involvement in the operation that captured and killed bin Laden.

However, U.S. officials state that no other country was aware of the operations (a position now backed up by Pakistan’s military), in which bin Laden was caught hiding less than a mile away from Pakistan’s West Point and a short flight away from the capital.  And so it’s possible that Pakistan was  caught with its pants down, having failed to stop or even spot the American incursion.

Publicly, U.S. officials are not aggressively putting pressure on Pakistan, though it will face tough questions from Congress and the media about how the world’s most wanted terrorist could live for years in the shadow of major Pakistani army institutions, in what is essentially an army garrison town. Privately, one can expect greater pressure from Washington on Islamabad and Rawalpindi to "do more."  Will Pakistan be able to continue its dual policy of supporting some militants and also partnering with the United States?

Inside the Pakistan Army’s ranks, one can expect greater pressure on Kayani, Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and possibly even Air Force Chief Marshall Rao Qamar Suleman.  Kayani has already been lambasted since the mid-March release of Raymond Davis, a Central Intelligence Agency contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January.  Given the record of attacks by radical serving and retired officers against the military leadership and other officers since 9/11, it’s highly likely that threats against the military from within will rise.  And al-Qaeda and its affiliates — including the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — are certain to lash out in anger against the Pakistani state and civilians.

Irrespective of whether it helped capture bin Laden, having both aided and worked against the United States and Islamic militants, and with the killing of bin Laden in mainland Pakistan, the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus is now caught in its own web of lies.  Getting out of it won’t be pretty.

Arif Rafiq is president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues.  He writes at the Pakistan Policy Blog (