The Americans are masters of creating catchy acronyms and the latest one gaining global recognition is F3EA (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit and Analyse), which is being heralded as a major tool in the US armoury for conduct of the global war on terror. When the SEAL team lifted away from the suburban compound that housed Osama bin Laden, the heist’s jewel in the crown was a cache of documents and computer files recovered from the compound. These captured documents were to trigger a major analytical effort by the forensic experts of the intelligence community in America to fill up the existing gaps in the jigsaw puzzle about the activities of Osama, in pipeline and future operations of al-Qaeda and gain enough leads to facilitate further cyclical operations.
The 17 letters comprising electronic letters or draft letters, which have been declassified and released to the Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) at West Point, consist of 175 pages in the original Arabic and 197 pages in the English translation. The earliest is dated September 2006 and the latest barely a week short of the raid. These reveal major actors in Osama’s life, including Attiyyatullah and Abu Yahya al-Libbi, both al-Qaeda leaders; Mukhtar Abu al-Zubeyr, the leader of Somali militant group al-Shabab; Abu Basir, the leader of the Yemen based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and Hakimullah Mahsud, the leader of TTP.
From among the terabytes of data, scavenged by the raiding party, this is truly a miniscule sampling, selectively declassified by the US intelligence. Yet, it is significant in understanding Osama, his operational relevance - capability of planning and influencing al-Qaeda operations from the seclusion of his hideout. The image that comes across is that of a frustrated and sidelined individual having little clout to direct, even influence the rhetoric of his affiliates and conjuring plans that are little more than daydreams or wishful agendas. These also, quite emphatically, lay to rest the disinformation concerning Pakistan’s involvement in providing sustenance, support and a safe sanctuary to Osama; as our detractors are wont to make the world believe. This is unfortunate that this vital aspect has not been accorded due importance by the foreign or local media.
Going through these letters one finds that references to Pakistan are scant, scarce and inconclusive. There is mention of “trusted Pakistani brothers”, yet no explicit references to any individual or institutional Pakistani support for al-Qaeda or its operatives emerge. In fact, the one instance when Pakistan intelligence is mentioned by Osama, it categorically comes across in a non-supporting role. In a letter to Attiya, in the course of giving detailed instructions covering the passage of his released family from Iran, Osama instructed him to be overly careful not to raise suspicions, fearing that “if the [Pakistani] intelligence commander in the region is very alert, he would assume that they are heading to my location and he would monitor them until they reach their destination.”
Another myth laid to rest by the letters is that Osama, enjoying patronage of Pakistani authorities, could move in Pakistan with ease and impunity. To the contrary, his letters make it obvious that he understood the compulsive and overarching need to merge with the ground and to that end displayed ironclad discipline and control that for such a long time obscured him from his dogged pursuers. In this context, he displayed an uncanny attention to detail in defeating the prying eyes. Emphasising the compulsive importance of caution he wrote to Attiya that it was utmost important not to allow children to leave the house, except in emergency situations. Osama explained to Attiya the strict rules and attention to detail followed by him and his household, which had proven to be the key to survival. This included the precaution of forbidding his children from playing outdoors; unless under supervision of an adult who could keep their voices down. The letters make it manifest that rather than any local assistance from authorities, it was due to Osama’s own ironclad caution and adherence to operational security protocol that enabled his survival for such a long time.
Instead of underscoring these facts that convincingly refute the extensive propaganda against Pakistan, the spin doctors in the US - and elsewhere - cherry pick only those fragments of letters, which serve their own ends. This is evident in Riedel’s Newsweek article of May 18 based on the declassified Osama letters. Poignantly ignoring the positive projection of Pakistan, he centred his article around Osama’s intention to have President Obama and General David Petraeus, the erstwhile Commander of the Isaf in Afghanistan, assassinated. This aspect was rather inconclusively expressed in Osama’s letter to Mustafa Abu al-Yazid asking him to task Ilyas, presumably Ilyas Kashmiri, to make arrangements for targeting airplanes known to be carrying the US President and/or the General. There are no indications that the outlandish idea was ever pursued with or not, but this amateurish plot or even wishful thinking provided due opening for the Newsweek to malign Pakistan by linking Ilyas Kashmiri to army/ISI and David Headley - the staple of Pakistani bashing propaganda experts.
The declassified Abbottabad letters released by the West Point Combating Terrorism Centre provide rare documentary evidence, proving Pakistan’s innocence against charges of collaboration with Osama to help evade his pursuers. This aspect, emerging from nowhere else, but the US itself has not attracted the attention in Pakistan in a manner that the issue deserves. The result is that the void has been picked up by foreign spin doctors, who are adept at blotting out the positive and emphasising the negative to whet their own vested ends.
The writer is a freelance columnist.