Pakistan Angry Over What It Didn't Know

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The covert American operation that assassinated Osama Bin Laden has sparked widespread public anger in Pakistan. The biggest question: How could the U.S. have entered Pakistani territory and taken out the world's most wanted man without the knowledge of Pakistan's military? NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.


Pakistans political and military leadership are hashing out a strategy to respond to the daring American helicopter raid that killed bin Laden last week. Pakistanis astonished by the covert operation are calling for top government and military officials to resign.

From Islamabad, NPRs Julie McCarthy reports on how Pakistans security establishment failed and how it might regroup.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Whether by incompetence, the Pakistanis avow ignorance of bin Laden on their soil. Or by collusion, a charge that the establishment here vehemently denies, Retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood says a serious stocktaking is underway. He says the priority for the military now is to prevent a repeat of the American raid on other high-value targets who may be in Pakistan, including Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and bin Ladens Number Two, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Lieutenant General TALAT MASOOD (Retired Secretary, Ministry of Defense): So its extremely important for them now. And this is one of the lessons that they should take; that if there are any high-value targets still present in Pakistan, a serious effort should be made in order to capture them. Because if they are again embarrassed it can be extremely damaging for U.S.-Pakistan relations, for Pakistans image abroad and Pakistans credibility.

MCCARTHY: The United States is reportedly asking Pakistan to disclose names of officials and agents who may have had contact with bin Laden. His youngest wife, who was in the room when Navy SEALs stormed in and shot bin Laden, is reported to have told Pakistani investigators that he had lived in Pakistan-proper for seven years; five of them in Abbottabad, a tidy town of manicured military installations.

Defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa says cooperation with the U.S. on indentifying agents is unlikely, even though she says it's almost certain that elements within Pakistans security establishment knew where bin Laden was. Moreover, she says, an institutional bias for al-Qaida among some inside the military intelligence community would have stymied any effort to undercover bin Laden's hideout.

Dr. AYESHA SIDDIQA (Former Deputy Director, Audit Defense Services): There could be intelligence failures anywhere. But what Im saying is if this institution of the Pakistan army, as an institution, becomes institutionally sympathetic to militants, then you have additional filters which stop you from looking in the right direction.

MCCARTHY: Still, Siddiqa says the establishments planning for national security is now under closer scrutiny.

Dr. SIDDIQA: By planning, what I mean is keeping contact with rogue elements, non-state actors; keeping them alive, keeping connected with them so they could be used as strategic assets somewhere or sometime.

MCCARTHY: Columnist Cyril Almeida, of Pakistans English language newspaper Dawn, says the bin Laden episode marks a milestone for Pakistan. Bin Laden lived for years in a scenic hill cantonment that is home to Pakistan's elite military academy. Almeida says regardless of Pakistan's denials, the perception that it had to have known bin Laden was living there will become the reality. And he says it will inform future policymaking toward Pakistan.

Mr. CYRIL ALMEIDA (Columnist, Dawn Newspaper): So Pakistan is caught in this extraordinary bind, in terms of with the outside world is now not looking at you at a sanctuary for terrorists, but possibly even a sponsor of terrorism.

MCCARTHY: The U.S. operation that killed bin Laden exposed Pakistans military deficiencies. Pakistani officials say it was not until the crash of the U.S. helicopter during the raid that they had any idea something was amiss.

Even as Pakistanis devour details of how bin Laden lived life in a vastly shrunken world behind high walls, their anger is more about the U.S. violating Pakistani territory, than about the worlds most wanted terrorist living in it.

Columnist Almeida says that frame of mind is one indication of Pakistans trajectory into a declining state.

Mr. ALMEIDA: And the pace of the decline is accelerating. And I think for many Pakistanis even the extraordinary question of: Are we strategically on the wrong path? My contention is that it's becoming increasingly likely that if Pakistan is to be saved, it will be despite ourselves not because of us.

MCCARTHY: As the military scrambles to salvage its reputation, Almeida says as long as the national security and foreign policy remain in the hands of what he calls unaccountable and untouchable generals, what future can Pakistan have?

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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