Pakistan has arrested several of its citizens for espionage. Four of those arrested are believed to be civilians, one is reportedly a major in the Pakistani Army (there are conflicting reports on this, as Pakistan has denied any of those arrested are military officers). Pakistan, like any country, takes espionage seriously. That they would make arrests should not be surprising. But this is an unusual scenario. The men that Pakistan has arrested are accused of working with the United States, and the mission they were involved in was locating Osama bin Laden. Whatever excuse they may offer, between its allies in the West and the terrorists in their mist, Pakistan defers to the terrorists.
While it is understandable that Pakistan would be angry that some of its citizens had co-operated with a foreign power, the Pakistani government may soon have cause to regret these arrests. How can Pakistan argue that it is doing its best to co-operate with the United States while arresting some of the few Pakistanis who were able to help America find its most wanted man? The arrests of these five men, after the conspicuous failure to find and neutralize bin Laden, says much about Pakistan’s commitment to the Western campaign against terrorism.
It will be years before the entire history of the intelligence operation that led to bin Laden’s killing is known, but we know enough already to appreciate how extremely difficult it was. After obtaining the name of a trusted bin Laden associate, whom the al-Qaeda leader used as a personal courier, the CIA began a two-year hunt for this man. They eventually tracked him down to the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, and that’s where the Pakistani agents came in.
One man owned a home that he rented out to the CIA as a safehouse (it is unclear if he knew he was dealing with American intelligence operatives in so doing). Using that house as a base, other Pakistanis working with the United States began to monitor the movements of the bin Laden courier, including the unusual compound that bin Laden was in fact residing in. How vital this part of the intelligence operation was to the overall effort to find bin Laden is not known, but was surely non-trivial. A continuing problem during the War on Terror has been the lack of any Western “boots on the ground” for intelligence gathering. The CIA’s recruitment of these Pakistani operatives is noteworthy for that alone. Identifying bin Laden’s hideout with enough certainty to kill him would likely have proven impossible without their help.
The killing of bin Laden was a victory for the United States, but a humiliation for Pakistan. It proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Pakistan is not a reliable partner in the War on Terror. To be sure, no doubt some Pakistanis are loyal to the West and consider al-Qaeda and the Taliban to be a hated enemy. But it is equally sure that just as many, if not more, of Pakistan’s military, political and intelligence elite are actively working against America’s interests in pursuit of an Islamist and/or nationalist agenda. Pakistan is a country riven into many disparate factions, some pro-Western, some pro-jihad, and everything else in between. It often tries to pretend otherwise, but discovering the world’s most wanted man living a few minute’s walk from a major Pakistani military academy hung out Pakistani’s dirty laundry for all the world to see. According to Western intelligence officials, retired senior officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (their senior spy agency) were aware of bin Laden’s location, and even helped to construct his home.
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