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Truth came out finally from none other than Pakistani Law Enforcement authorities themselves. Bin Laden, the most wanted person in the world in recent history, the man who had a price tag of $25 million for his capture—dead or alive, lived comfortably in Pakistan during all those years he was being hounded by US, and if we believe, by Pakistani authorities. As told by Pakistan Police He lived in Pakistan in a number of places in the North Western part of the country, within smelling distance of the most powerful spy agency of the country, the Inter Services Intelligence Agency or ISI. It was just not Bin Laden alone; he lived famously with a bevy of wives, and nearly a dozen offspring, four of whom were born in Pakistan in those ten years. Add to this number the retinue of servants and other security staff that a person like Bin Laden would require. It just befuddles the normal mind to accept that the most wanted man of the world, who was reportedly being hunted by every law enforcement and spy agency in the country, would be living in Pakistan in such great style, and no one would have wind of it. It simply defies all imagination that a contingent of foreigners would be living literally in the back yards of Pakistan’s highest establishment including the most powerful Army and no one in Pakistan knew. And that is not all. During the years that Bin Laden lived in Pakistan, his latest wife gave birth to four children, not in a cave, not even in a closed room, but in regular hospitals. In the hospitals she went, surely she was attended by doctors and nurses. And not even one knew who she was, or even wanted to know her identity? Did she pass herself off as a local and that also not once, but four times? In deposing before the Court that tried the wives of Bin Laden the Police unabashedly stated that Bin Laden and his wives with their brood had been staying in various parts of North West Frontier, in the vicinity of Pakistan’s capital for last ten years illegally! Where have they been all these years? Are people actually to believe that a mini-tribe of people who would appear to be foreigners even to the most dim witted could live in a place for years without being noticed? Even more brazenly the Police admitted that this illegal stay was made possible because of protection of the “most wanted person” from some powerful people. Now one wonders who that powerful person or persons would be. During the years that the US had been hounding Bin Laden, after his famous “escape” from a reported cave in Afghanistan following US attack in 2001, Pakistani authorities led by then President Pervez Musharraf had been feeding the international media with the news of either his death (from kidney illness) or escape to some other part of the world, anywhere but Pakistan. They adamantly refused any suggestion that the Terror Chief of the World could be hiding in more familiar places close to Pakistan authorities harbored by his sympathizers, and well wishers. I remember that in response to a question (in an interview in a talk show in a US TV Channel) whether he knew the whereabouts of Bin Laden, President Musharraf replied that he did not. He added facetiously, however, that he would like to know if the talk show host did know and would like to share the knowledge with him. Today, after the cat has been let out of the bag by Pakistan Police, one wonders if the President of Pakistan was genuinely
unaware of this hideout of the century, or he was simply looking the other way while making the most of the crisis. One must admit, however, that the decade long hunt for Bin Laden bore fruit for Pakistan. Pakistan, which publicly participated in the war on terrorism, received unprecedented financial support during the ten years. U.S. assistance to Pakistan has fluctuated considerably over the years prior to 2001. In the fifties and early sixties Pakistan had benefited greatly both in direct US grants for development and military assistance. This assistance had waned somewhat in the seventies, but had increased in the eighties after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But the scale of assistance increased dramatically after the Bush and Obama Administrations characterized Pakistan as a U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, in the fight against terrorism, and in efforts to stabilize the region. Since 1948, the United States has pledged more than $30 billion in direct aid, about half for military assistance. Two-thirds of this total was appropriated in the post-9/11 era from FY2002 to FY2010. US assistance to Pakistan will not presumably decrease only because what the authorities in the US have learnt to their chagrin about Bin Laden hideouts in Pakistan. Strategic interests of the US will rule over this mishap, since particularly the most wanted man has been otherwise taken care of. But the takeaway lesson from all this is that shenanigans are an integral part of espionage. A spy agency will do and can do whatever it takes to make the most out of a crisis. Hiding of a most wanted person in the world, along with an entourage of family and friends cannot happen without some complicity from the top. It happened because it was allowed to happen. It ended when the complicity ended.
Ziauddin Choudhury is a former civil servant.