The death of Osama bin Laden in a million-dollar mansion about 35 miles outside the Pakistani capital and not in a secret mountain hide-out raised questions Monday about Pakistani complicity in concealing the al Qaeda leader.
Hamid Gul, a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, said that it “is a bit amazing” to believe that authorities did not know bin Laden was in Abbottabad.
Aside from the military, “there is the local police, the Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence, the ISI, they all had a presence there,” he added.
Members of Congress and analysts said the pressure is now on Pakistan to reveal when it first knew about the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts.
Sen. Joseph I. Leiberman, Connecticut independent, said the “burden of proof” is on the Pakistanis to convince us that they really did not know” where bin Laden was hiding.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, accused Pakistan of playing a “double game.”
“It’s very difficult for me to understand how this huge compound could be built in a city just an hour north of the capital of Pakistan, in a city that contained military installations, including the Pakistani military academy, and that it did not arouse tremendous suspicion, especially since there were no Internet or telephone connections and the waste was incinerated and there was barbed wire all around the top of the compound,” she said.
Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership have insisted for years that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, were not in Pakistan or that they are hiding in the mountainous tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Instead, bin Laden was found living comfortably on a property U.S. officials said was worth $1 million and eight times the size of other homes in the city.
“I think it is inconceivable that bin Laden didn’t have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time,” John Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told reporters.
He declined to speculate on the nature of this assistance, but said U.S. officials are “closely talking to the Pakistanis right now.”
Bin Laden was killed on Sunday after he was tracked to a compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad, located close to the elite Pakistani Military Academy at Kakul town. The academy is Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.
Last week, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, told graduating cadets at the academy that the “back of terrorism” in Pakistan had been broken.
Previously, al Qaeda No. 3, Abu Faraj Al-Libbi and Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed were both captured in residential areas in Pakistan.
“What this shows is that Pakistan has been complicit with Osama bin Laden, that they have sheltered him,” Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said in a call with reporters on Monday.
“Even if Pakistani diplomats have been sincere, the fact of the matter is that the ISI seems to have been running the show and the diplomats were quite irrelevant.”
But a spokeswoman for Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said Pakistan has played a significant role in efforts to eliminate terrorism and described intelligence sharing with the U.S. as extremely effective.
Critics have long accused elements in Pakistan of supporting terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Toiba.
“Elements within the ISI certainly continue to maintain ties with the Haqqani Network who continue to enjoy ‘most favored’ status among Pakistan’s Afghan proxy groups,” said Jeffrey Dressler, a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
The Haqqani Network is led by a father-son duo, Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani.
“Al Qaeda’s relationship with the Haqqanis certainly raises questions about how much elements within the Pakistani security establishment may or may not know about the current status of al Qaeda in Pakistan,” Mr. Dressler said.
The U.S. did not inform Pakistani authorities of the mission until after it was concluded, prompting accusations from some Pakistanis of a violation of sovereignty.
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former president, told CNN-IBN, an Indian news channel, that U.S. troops operating in Pakistan is “not acceptable to the people of Pakistan. It is a violation of our sovereignty.”
A U.S. official said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that it would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed that the terrorist group will “avenge the martyrdom of Osama bin Laden, and we will do it by carrying out attacks in Pakistan and America.”
The U.S. closed its embassy in Islamabad and its consulates in the cities of Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar on Monday as a precautionary measure.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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