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US-Pakistan relations

May 6, 2011

Pakistan faces international criticism of the failure of its intelligence agencies to spot bin Laden when he was living in Abbottabad, a two-hour drive from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Osama bin Laden's compound close to a military academy in Abbottabad
Osama bin Laden's compound was close to a military academy in AbbottabadImage: dapd

The idyllic town of Abbottabad is situated in the Orash Valley, some 50 kilometers away from Islamabad. For most Pakistanis, the city was primarily known for its good weather, higher-education establishments and military establishments. Now, it will be remembered as the place where al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was found and killed.

A crowd of spectators and media are blocking a street to the compound Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad
Curiousity mixed with disbelief: Did Osama bin Laden really live here?Image: AP

Many of Abbottabad’s citizens are still amazed by the news that Osama bin Laden lived among them for so long. Others suspect that reports of his killing are just an elaborate ruse conjured up by the US government.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s allies are wondering whether it can possibly be true that the Pakistani secret services did not know Osama bin Laden was living in luxury there instead of in hiding in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan, as long had been suspected.

Strained relations with the neighbors

"This place, this compound is very famous, and the Afghan authorities and experts had information about that," said Rangin Dadfar Spanta, a security adviser for the Afghan government.

"We know that it is not possible without the understanding and support of highest-level establishment figures to find a villa there and live a life of luxury for around five years. I hope that will be a lesson for all the elements that are still using terrorism as instrument for foreign policy."

Relatives of the Mumbai attack victims are waiting for their bodies to be released
Those responsible for the Mumbai attacks in 2008 are still living freely in Pakistan, says IndiaImage: AP

India has also insisted that Pakistan is knowingly harboring terrorists on its territory. Pakistan’s credibility has suffered a great blow since it was revealed that Washington did not inform Islamabad of the operation in Abbottabad.

Mounting pressure

Talat Masood, a former general in the Pakistani military, said that "whether it was deliberate or complete ignorance on the part of the intelligence, they did not discover that he was there. Both are interchangeable, there is no doubt about that."

He also warned that "sweeping judgments have been made all over the world. This pressure from all sides is extremely counterproductive and puts Pakistan right on the defensive." He added that this makes it difficult for Pakistan to be an ally with the rest of the world.

A Pakistan army soldier stands alert, as he monitors the Afghan-Pakistan border
Many extremist groups are suspected of hiding along the Afghan-Pakistani borderImage: AP

The pressure, which was already very high, is mounting and the question of whether Pakistan’s security apparatus is willing or able to handle militancy and terrorism remains extremely pertinent.

Islamabad has taken a harsh line against the Pakistani Taliban but has adopted a different strategy towards the Afghan Taliban, who are responsible for attacks on the other side of the border.

Pakistani journalist and security expert Muhammad Amir Rana said that the conditions for militants were simply too "favorable" in Pakistan. "There are already more than a hundred militant organizations operating. We have a lot of ungoverned spaces in the tribal areas of South Punjab and Baluchistan so these miltants prefer to hide there. They have their support bases in the urban centers."

To make matters worse, there is a deep-seated distrust of the US in Pakistan right now. However, the US and Europe need Islamabad's support to win the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Author: Kai Küstner/zer
Editor: Anne Thomas

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