Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's killing by US Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011, stands out as a benchmark in explaining the complexity of Pak-US relations. As its first anniversary approaches, the event is certain to initiate a debate in the US and Pakistan, highlighting the contradictions embedded in a highly complex, stressful and multidimensional relation spanning the last decade. The passage of a year might have dulled the pain, yet the anger and bitter feelings continue to rankle, impinging upon Pakistan’s sense of pride and patriotism. Not only in Pakistan, the incident is certain to receive a high coverage within the US as well where the general election campaign is about to start and the Democrat camp intends to cash in on the derring-do "Operation Geranimo", seeking to underscore President Barack Obama's penchant for firm handling of national security affairs; a domain which has traditionally been a forte of the Republican Presidents.
2011 was truly a terrible year in the context of Pak-US relations. Apart from the calamitous Abbottabad raid, it was repeatedly punctuated by incidents of US military/intelligence walking roughshod over Pakistan’s sovereignty; pushing the troubled relations to the edge of the precipice. In January 2011, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor whom President Obama referred to as "our diplomat in Islamabad", shot to death two people on one of the busiest intersections in Lahore, while a third bystander was run down by the car sent by the US Consulate to aid him. It was widely believed that he was one among a large contingent of US intelligence operators who had, in an unauthorised and surreptitious manner, saturated Pakistani landscape to run clandestine spy networks. There was strong public reaction when he was plucked out of the Lahore jail by invoking the provisions of paying blood money to the relatives of the slain persons, permitted by the Sharia law. The US raid killing Osama further added fuel to the fire of simmering animosity and a swell of anti-US public anger began to take shape. It is instructive to note that a June 2011 Pew Poll found that 75 percent of Pakistanis held an unfavourable view of the United States; 70 percent believed that it is an enemy rather than a friend; and 70 percent saw it as a possible military threat to Pakistan - indicating to a prescient grassroot premonition of the things waiting to unfold shortly.
Following the Abbottabad raid by six months, in November 2011, when collective nerves were still raw and throbbing, the US forces’ inexplicable cross border attack on a Pakistani military outpost on Salalah Ridge killing 24 soldiers and wounding 13 exacerbated the Pak-US tensions to breaking point. The result is widespread and entrenched feelings of anti-Americanism, whereby many Pakistanis believe that the relations between the two countries are exploitative to the extreme, calling for an urgent for correcting of the imbalance.
Consequently, the public pressure has forced Pakistan to shut the conduit for Nato supplies into Afghanistan and to end US utilisation of the Shamsi Airbase that was being used by the CIA for drone operations. The restrictions may ease out, but tensions in bilateral relations are likely to remain calling for remedial US action to ameliorate the situation.
Notwithstanding the acrimony, there is an urgent necessity to hold tempers on the occasion of the anniversary. As a first step, the US must not use the brouhaha over Abbottabad raid to gloss over the ground realities that stand in sharp contrast to the claims made by its establishment about Pakistan military and intelligence’s prior knowledge of Osama’s hiding spot. While fabricating such a jaundiced view, it is simply impossible to overlook Pakistan’s notable successes against Al-Qaeda big fish over the last decade, or lose sight of intelligence cooperation that provided the vital lead for tracking Osama to his final hideout. Thousands of terrorists have been captured or killed by Pakistani agencies in the last decade, but top five terrorists apprehended in Pakistan need particular mention.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the reported mastermind of 9/11, was nabbed on March 1, 2003, by Pakistani intelligence from Rawalpindi. The US had offered a $25 million reward leading to his arrest or death. He is currently detained in Guantanamo Bay. Abu Faraj al-Libi, believed to be number three in the then Al-Qaeda’s hierarchy, was arrested on May 2, 2005, in Mardan. He is now a detainee at Guantanamo. Both Khalid Sheikh and Abu Faraj provided important leads that led to the pinpointing of Osama at the Abbottabad compound. Another Guantanamo inmate; Abu Zubadeh was captured on March 28, 2002, in Faisalabad. As reported in a 2002 US legal opinion, he is alleged to have "managed a network of training camps” and "been involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by Al-Qaeda." Ramzi bin al-Shibh was captured on September 11, 2002, in Karachi and was one of the five "most wanted terrorists" by Washington. As head of the 9/11 hijackers cell in Germany, he set up a financial network to siphon funds to militants in America, including Marwan al-Shehhi, who crashed United Airlines Flight 175into the World Trade Centre. Finally, Umer Patek, arrested in Abbottabad on March 29, 2011, was the Indonesian terrorist mastermind, who played a key role in the 2002 Bali bombings forming a crucial link in coordinating Al-Qaeda cells in Southeast Asia.
Another poignant aspect, which is largely ignored in the US security and media circles, perhaps by design, is that despite intensive scrutiny of available evidence, there is no smoking gun that could support the CIA-backed thesis that Osama was being sponsored by elements in Pakistan’s intelligence community. Pakistan's security establishment has faced much slandering from US policymakers and advisors on this baseless account leading to unnecessary suspicion and finger-pointing. Yet, the treasure trove of computer discs, containing terabytes of computer data retrieved by the SEAL team from Osama’s Abbottabad compound has yielded no evidence of Pakistan's complicity, despite scanning millions of documents. This prominent and undeniable fact may prove to be the initiating point in reconciling widely varying perspectives and perceptions of cooperation between the security establishments of the two countries.
The writer is a freelance columnist.