Why It Matters That Osama Bin Laden Was Once Pulled Over for Speeding

A report claims Pakistan's security agency overlooked clear evidence that the terrorist was hiding in plain sight.
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Reuters

The American raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a huge embarrassment for Pakistan's military and intelligence services. They had failed to report that bin Laden -- the world's most wanted man -- was living one kilometer away from the country's top military academy. And there was astonishment among Pakistanis that a complex foreign operation could take place so deep inside Pakistani territory without a single shot being fired in defense.

A landmark inquiry by the Pakistani government into the May 2, 2011 raid that was leaked by Al Jazeera English is unusually critical of the country's military and intelligence agencies, and while it stops short of conclusively painting the agency as complicit in bin Laden's presence in Pakistan, it does not rule it out, either.

The commission's findings are particularly harsh on the country's military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), saying the body does not respect civilian institutions and that it needs to rethink its strategy of using Islamist extremists as "assets" for projecting power in the region.

It is a stark departure from the usual discourse in Pakistan, where the ISI enjoys a reputation as the vanguard of the state, protecting it from external and internal threats.

Some of the country's most powerful institutions were subjected to unprecedented scrutiny in the raid's fallout, and the head of the ISI was summoned to answer questions before a joint session of Parliament.

A retired Supreme Court judge was put in charge of a commission to investigate further. The commission grilled 201 witnesses, including some of the country's top military leaders and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI.

According to the commission's report, Pakistani air force jets were not scrambled until three and a half hours after the initial American incursion, by which time the U.S. choppers had already left Pakistan.

On the question of whether or not their government or military was complicit in bin Laden's stay, Pakistanis had speculated at the time of the raid that at the minimum someone was negligent, and at the most, someone in the military, intelligence, or civilian government was complicit.

"The earlier theories remain," says Raza Rumi, who heads the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank. "The report remains inconclusive in ascribing responsibility to a specific individual," he says, stressing that the authenticity of the document still needs to be verified.

The agency actually tasked with finding bin Laden was the ISI. But according to testimony by ISI leaders, bin Laden was assumed long dead, and they had given up the search for him years before the raid.

The commission questioned the ISI's commitment to the state, saying their decision to give up the search reflected the ISI's "naivete and its lack of commitment to eradicating organized extremism, ignorance and violence, which is the single biggest threat to Pakistan."

The report blames the ISI leadership for not doing enough to root out al-Qaeda sympathizers within its own ranks -- a common American criticism. "The extent of 'radical Islamist' influence in the armed forces has certainly been exaggerated by some foreign and Pakistani commentators," it says, "but it has assuredly been underestimated by senior military officials."

The report says the ISI, in its investigation of the U.S. raid, did not adequately probe the extent of bin Laden's support network in Pakistan, which had to include more locals.

Ultimately, the report blames the ISI for bin Laden living undetected in Abbottabad. As a result, "the country suffered military humiliation, national outrage, and international isolation."

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Umar Farooq is a freelance writer.

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