Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Osama bin Laden Got a Safe Haven in Pakistan

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Osama bin Laden killed
in the U.S. 'Operation Geronimo' in Pakistan

Cartoon (Toronto: May 5, 2011) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

“You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” –U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Pakistan high government officials, including Presidents, and intelligence heads have been denying for the last six years or so that they know the whereabouts of the most sought-after terrorist Osama bin Laden and his closest associates. The world was fooled so far, but no longer. The killing of bin Laden in a safe house in the heart of Abbotabad garrison (military) town proved it otherwise.

Americans, in general, are very gullible people. Since they depend on reasoning and proof, they usually see things in black and white only. They fail to see things in the grey area in between the black and white. Many of the high government officials and members of the Congress, after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, were wondering aloud why Pakistan, by vowing to fight terrorism with the USA, was not totally loyal and truthful to the USA when billions of dollars worth of aid and other help have been poured into that country. The Americans took it for granted that the pouring of their money and material would buy the hundred per cent loyalty and allegiance of Pakistan. It didn’t happen. Why? Because of the grey areas.

What Are the Grey Areas?

  • Deep in its heart, Pakistan considers Osama bin Laden a comrade and co-fighter during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan: Pakistan army officers and intelligent agents worked shoulder to shoulder with Talibans (Muslim fundamentalist group) of Pakistan and Afghanistan and other Afghan insurgent groups, including bin Laden’s foreign Muslim group, during the war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (1979-1988). Since the USA strongly believed in the “domino theory” regarding the spread of communism (that if one country becomes communist, the neighbouring countries will automatically fall to the influence of communism), it was one of the biggest donors and cooperators of Pakistan in funding and supplying funds and war material to these groups. The intention was to drive away the Soviets from Afghanistan so that pro-western neighbouring countries like Pakistan and others might not fall to communism and Soviet influence. During this time, Pakistani army officers and intelligent agents became very friendly and built up a close bond with the leaders of these insurgent groups. As a result, Pakistan had a divided loyalty and allegiance – partly to the USA, partly to these groups -- including Osama bin Laden’s group, and partly to the national interest of Pakistan. Even if the USA demanded full cooperation, Pakistan could not provide it due to these dynamics in the region. Pakistan knows it well that if it antagonizes the Talibans and Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group, it will face total chaos when the USA and its allies leave Afghanistan.
  • Local tribal mentality and culture are favourable to Osama bin Laden: To understand the mind of the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, one needs to understand the local tribal mentality, belief, culture, practice and tradition. Most of these people belong to one ethnic or tribal group or another. Their loyalty and allegiance to their own group is very important. What tribal chiefs say or do, other members have to follow the same. Betrayal is punished severely. The tribal culture demands that anybody or any group accepted as friend or guest must be treated well and, if necessary, must be protected from enemies at the cost of one’s life. Since Osama bin Laden was the guest of the Afghan Talibans when they were in power (1996-2001) in Afghanistan, the Talibans cannot just reject him or Pakistan, which is also friend and facilitator of the Talibans – both in Pakistan and Afghanistan – cannot just dump or throw its friend and guest bin Laden to the hounds.
  • Many Muslims consider him a holy man and a hero: As Christians feel a kind of admiration and reverence when they hear the words ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Virgin Mary,’ ‘Jerusalem,’ ‘Bethlehem,’ ‘Nazareth,’ ‘Rome,’ ‘Vatican,’ ‘Pope,’ and ‘church,’ so do the Muslims when hear the words ‘Islam,’ ‘Prophet Muhammad,’ ‘Mecca,’ ‘Medina,’ ‘Saudi Arabia,’ and ‘mosque.’ When they know that Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia (considered the holy land because of Prophet Muhammad’s birth and preaching of his religion and the elaborate hajj pilgrimage system) and he wants to fight the Western powers (“infidels” or unbelievers of Islam) to leave their bases from the holy land of Saudi Arabia, they consider him to be a savior of Islam and Muslims. That’s they consider him a ‘hero’ and not a terrorist. So, howsoever the Western countries try to paint bin Laden as a terrorist, many Muslims (fundamentalists, conservatives and blindly devoted ones) in the world consider him a holy man in jihad (holy war). Moreover, in South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh), the whole demeanor of Osama bin Laden, having a tall figure with calm face, soft voice, flowing beard and white turban on his head, gives an impression of a pir (Muslim holy man). As a result, they wouldn’t hesitate to protect him and give him security from U.S. surveillance and capture. This is very much proven by the fact that in spite of $27 million U.S. reward for information and capture of Osama bin Laden, no one among the Talibans and Pakistanis came forward so far to betray his whereabouts and claim the reward.
  • In spite of denials, Pakistani armed forces and military intelligence will remain suspects for sheltering Osama bin Laden: Pakistan has one of the most active, efficient, powerful and pervasive military intelligence services in the world. It is said that no foreign ant, fly or mosquito can enter Pakistan without the knowledge of the military. One citizen of Pakistan’s Abbotabad town, where Osama bin Laden’s lair was attacked by the U.S. forces, mentioned in an interview with a foreign TV journalist how strict eyes are kept on persons moving about, or entering and leaving the city. The city security personnel regularly question people, check their ID card and vehicles. He said that there was no way that a foreigner, especially the high-profile personality like Osama bin Laden, could hide in the city without the knowledge of the military. In the early 1990s, a foreign (western) non-government organization (NGO) worker, after his visit to projects in Lahore area of Pakistan, mentioned in Dhaka that wherever he stayed and visited (hotel, NGO offices, village projects and market places), he was stealthily followed by army intelligence agents. All these prove how active Pakistan’s intelligence service is. Moreover, the spacious area with a large building with special security measures, including no telephone or Internet service connections, must have drawn attention of the town officials. Now, everyone is in denial of the knowledge of bin Laden’s presence there.
  • It is plausible that the military hid the information of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan from the elected politicians. From the inception of Pakistan in August, 1947, its military has been running the country from behind elected politicians. Whenever some politicians failed to listen to them, they were brushed aside and the military came to power through coups. From 1947 till 2011, Pakistan experienced military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999. There were also other unsuccessful coup attempts in the country.

There is nothing surprising or unusual that Osama bin Laden, although considered a deadly terrorist and an enemy by the Western countries, is considered a savior of Islam and a hero by many Muslims of the world. So, giving him a secure shelter from the U.S. or NATO forces is not thought to be a crime, but a duty by devout Muslims.



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