How could Pakistan not know?
Published 03/05/2011 | 12:36
The role of the Pakistan intelligence services was under intense scrutiny last night as experts suggested it was impossible for the country not to have known about Osama bin Laden's hiding place.
The world's most wanted man was discovered in a hideout just a few hundred yards from the Pakistan Military Academy, which has been described as Pakistan's Sandhurst or West Point.
The city, Abbottabad, which is 56km from Islamabad, is home to thousands of soldiers and is under government control. The Pakistani intelligence agencies are normally very adept at sniffing out the presence of foreigners, especially in towns with a heavy military presence.
And yet bin Laden had been able to live in the area's largest building, which was "custom built", and with "extraordinary" security for six years without raising any apparent suspicion.
Originally secluded along a dirt track, other properties had been allowed to build up around it, providing urban camouflage, and expensive cars were regularly seen driving in and out.
Five months ago, a film crew had tried filming next to the house and were stopped by two men.
It is not the first time the city has been linked to al-Qaeda. Earlier this year a senior Indonesian militant, Umar Patek, was arrested there. He had been protected by an al-Qaeda operative, a clerk who worked undercover at a post office.
The revelations reignited concerns that some factions in Pakistan's ISID intelligence agency may have been helping to shelter the terrorist.
The fact that the US did not forewarn the Pakistan authorities in advance of the operation signalled a lack of trust.
MPs and security experts in Britain last night said serious questions must now be asked of Pakistan. Pakistan's high commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, admitted that bin Laden may have chosen the city as a "safe haven" but insisted that Islamabad had no idea of his whereabouts until the US operation.
But Richard Ottaway, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: "Unfortunately, I am not sure that the government of Pakistan speaks for the whole of Pakistan. It is a divided country with lots of tribal loyalties, and there are clearly internal divisions within Pakistan's security services."
Mr Hasan dismissed the suggestion that there was a lack of trust between US and Pakistani security agencies.
Mike Gapes, the Labour MP and a former chairman of the committee, said: "The fact that bin Laden has been found in a huge complex in the middle of a military garrison town – rather than in some remote rural area – leads you to wonder how on earth he has been able to live in this place."
Nigel Inkster, a former assistant chief of MI6, said: "There are questions, obviously, that arise out of this as to whether elements in the Pakistani intelligence community probably judged that it might be better to keep Osama bin Laden safe rather than risk the opprobrium that might attach to being in some way responsible for his death or capture."
A former British special forces officer who has worked in Pakistan said the country's military sustained terrorism to keep funding from the West flowing.
"We face a kind of Hobson's choice where the military have wanted the insurgency to continue because if the problem goes away so does the funding from America and others, including the UK," he said.
Hamid Gul, a former Pakistani intelligence chief critical of America's presence in the region, said the idea that bin Laden could be in Abbottabad unknown to authorities "is a bit amazing".
Khalid Mahmood, chair of the parliamentary all-party group on tackling terrorism, said: "If he had been in the mountains of Peshawar, that might have been acceptable, but in a key town in Pakistan, I am amazed that that has been allowed to happen. How is it that they have never found him there?"
The Pakistan Military Academy, the aim of which is to train "Gentleman Cadets", was set up in 1947 after Pakistan's independence from Britain.
It is run by Maj Gen Mazhar Jamil and alumni include Gen Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, and Gen Jehangir Karamat, former chief of army staff and ambassador to the US.
Only last week, the chief of Pakistan's army staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, told graduating cadets that the "back of terrorism" in the country had been broken, due to the sacrifices of its soldiers.
The academy has three training battalions and 12 companies. A further 2,000 "guests", from more than 34 countries, receive some training there each year.