Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bin Laden Data Cache Gives USA Leverage with Pakistan: Was bin Laden the Pakistani "Golden Goose"?

US-Pakistani relations were in crisis before the circumstances of the killing of Osama Bin Laden became known. Tired of Pakistani obfuscation on its side of the border, the Obama administration had sharply increased drone strikes in the tribal belt and significantly expanded its ground presence in Pakistan, particularly through the use of CIA operatives and contractors. These changes were beginning to pay off spectacularly – both in terms of the attrition of senior and mid-ranking al-Qaida figures and in terms of the killing of important Afghan Taliban. In fact they were paying off so well they had begun to interfere with Pakistan's long-term regional strategy. In the wake of the Raymond Davis affair, and buoyed by public antipathy to the US in Pakistan, an angry General Kayani had pushed the United States for a renegotiation of the base and access deal agreed in the wake of 9/11, ordered the closure of the secret CIA drone base at Shamsi in northern Balochistan, and ordered many CIA operatives and contractors out of Pakistan.

Then Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad in a large, sophisticated compound, which bears all the hallmarks of a bespoke building built to hide high-value targets over the long term. Convinced that Pakistan remains a net asset in the war on terror, and seeing no value in further destabilizing the Zardari-Gilani government, the US had publicly supported Pakistan though this has convinced few on Capitol Hill who are determined to get answers to many awkward questions. Behind the scenes, however, it is clear that the Obama administration and informed Americans are furious with Pakistan.

As a military cantonment town, much of it built by the army's own construction companies, the home of the Kakul training academy and of a brigade of the Rawalpindi Corps, and as the location of an important ISI office, little goes on in Abbottabad that the army/ISI doesn't know about. Moreover, the army/ISI had at least four reasons for wanting to keep bin Laden out of harm's way:

1) to avoid their long-terms links with bin Laden being revealed (links that include a plot to kill Benazir Bhutto in the late 1980s and the difficult fact that the ISI introduced bin Laden to the Afghan Taliban in 1996)

2) bin Laden was the "golden goose" who assured US military aid flowed to the Pakistan army as long as he was on the run

3) bin Laden had links to powerful Saudi families who in turn have links to powerful figures in Pakistan, and who had reasons to want to keep bin Laden alive and out of Saudi Arabia, and

4) Pakistan may have made deals with bin Laden – as it has with many other terrorist groups – to curb al-Qaida's violence within Pakistan.

Bin Laden data cache gives US leverage - The Times of India

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