Pakistan declared the killing of Osama bin Laden a “major setback” to global terrorism, but it will inevitably come under pressure to explain how the al-Qaeda leader was holed up in a mansion near a military facility.
“Osama bin Laden’s death illustrates the resolve of the international community, including Pakistan, to fight and eliminate terrorism,” the government said in a statement. “It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world.”
However, it was not clear whether the Pakistan military was involved in the operation and there was no official comment from the government for several hours after the news of bin Laden’s killing broke, raising the possibility that Islamabad was taken by surprise.
That bin Laden was not hiding in mountains along the border, but in relative comfort near a military academy will bolster those who have long argued that Pakistan has been playing a duplicitous hand.
Just 10 days ago Pakistan’s army chief addressed army cadets at that very academy, saying the country’s military had broken the back of militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Washington has in the past accused Pakistan of maintaining ties to militants targeting US troops in Afghanistan. Relations have soured in recent months over US drone attacks and CIA activities in the country.
Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has long been suspected of links to al-Qaeda’s precursor, the Haqqani network, cultivated during the 1980s when Jalaluddin Haqqani was a feared battlefield commander against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
“For some time there will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad,” said Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst.
“If the ISI had known, then somebody within the ISI must have leaked this information,” Gul said. “Pakistan will have to do a lot of damage control because the Americans have been reporting he is in Pakistan ... this is a serious blow to the credibility of Pakistan.”
Abbottabad is a popular summer resort, located in a valley surrounded by green hills near Pakistani Kashmir. Islamist militants, particularly those fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir, used to have training camps near the town.
Meanwhile, New Delhi was quick to comment, saying the news underlined its “concern that terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan.”
“We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which [US] President [Barack] Obama said that the fire fight in which Osama bin Laden was killed took place in Abbotabad ‘deep inside Pakistan,’” Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a statement. “This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan.”