Following the spectacular killing of Osama Bin Laden in a hideaway near the capital city of Islamabad, senior figures of Pakistan’s government reportedly convened a high-level meeting to discuss the ramifications of his death, according to a report in The Nation, an English language Pakistani daily.
The meeting took place in Aiwan-e-Sadr, the official residence of the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad, and also included Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and other senior intelligence and military officers.
The Nation reported that the luminaries discussed steps to increase security in Pakistan and prevent any more violent fallout from Osama’s killing, amidst fears of a potential backlash by terrorists against Pakistani officials. The intelligence agencies and the Interior Ministry were instructed to accelerate security precautions at government and defense installations, as well as key public locales.
The President was also informed that Pakistani forces did not participate in the operation to murder Osama.
According to Pakistan’s Online news agency, the President and Prime Minister Gilani promised that Pakistan will continue to support the war against terror and crackdown terror networks in the country.
However, there are many questions in the US and the west over how much Pakistani authorities knew of Osama’s whereabouts. There will likely be increased skepticism about Pakistani officials.
General Hamid Gul, the former chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), told Al Jazeera: We knew all along that it (the war on terror) will eventually come to Pakistan. And now with this incident, they have the reason to justify what they have been saying all along that there are al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. Pakistan has been the target of this so-called 'war on terror' which began in Afghanistan, then was taken to Iraq and finally has come to Pakistan. The anti-Pakistan lobby can now say 'go for Pakistan'– they knew that they couldn't go against a nuclear Pakistan so the best way forward was to create internal problems and then ultimately come up with the stance that Pakistan’s nukes were not in safe hands.
Similarly, Khurshid Kasuri, Pakistan's former foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that the news has surprised the entire world but it is not surprising that he was still alive. When I was foreign minister [2002 – 2007], there was incorrect information about Osama bin Laden's arrest – it turned out that a lookalike had been arrested. Again it is not surprising that he was not found in the tribal region, there had been rumours circulating that he was living in Karachi because he needed medical care. I myself read reports which clearly stated that he was not in the tribal region so it is not a surprise that they found him in a city.”
Moreover, while US President Barack Obama claimed that Pakistan participated in the raid against Osama, that has been disputed by Pakistani officials.
Gul commented: If they carried the operation without the cooperation of ISI, then it will definitely be seen as a direct attack on Pakistan’s integrity and its sovereignty. And if ISI and CIA cooperated on this operation then this entire rhetoric of tense relations between the two agencies was a complete drama.
Kasuri added: Given that the helicopters flew at night, and helicopters fly very low so there is no way that they could have escaped the radar of Pakistan intelligence. So this indicates that there was a degree of cooperation. Now what we do not know is the extent of the cooperation.
However, another observer Pakistani journalist and member of parliament, Ayaz Amir, thinks it is impossible for the Pakistan intelligence arm to know of Osama’s whereabouts.
He told Al Jazeera: “[The intelligence authorities] couldn’t have played this high-risk game of knowing his whereabouts and pretending otherwise. And it is surprising that it took place near a very busy road, it shows sheer audacity that on his part that he chose to seek refuge in a compound in that area. The US forces couldn’t have carried out the operation on their own so the question is who gave them the tip-off?
Aside from US skepticism, Pakistan also has to worry about reaction from the Muslim world, particularly from hardliners who might blame the Islamabad government for Osama’s death.
Pakistan has the most to fear in terms of the reaction, from wherever al-Qaeda has strength in the Islamic World, including Asia and Middle East, Kasuri said.
In the short term, there will be many more incidents by terrorists, these will be acts to avenge Osama bin Laden’s death… and not just in Pakistan but across the globe. In the medium term, US public opinion has been swayed, they feel that justice has been done and it will help Obama finalize his exit strategy from the region. In the long term, there will be a quiet debate in the US quarters on how did the phenomenon [of al-Qaeda] come about, they will not acknowledge it but they will talk about it.”
Imran Khan, Chairman Movement for Justice in Pakistan, warned: It will be very difficult for Pakistan now. If our leadership fails to handle it properly, there will be a backlash from Osama bin Laden’s followers who will hail him as a martyr and try to avenge his death. And on the other hand, the idea will be presented to the world and is already being presented by the US media that Pakistan is the hub of terrorism.”