Obama to capitalise on Osama episode
Mohammad Jamil


People of Pakistan were flabbergasted when US Navy Seals attacked Abbottabad compound on 2nd May 2011 trampling sovereignty of Pakistan - an ally of the US and much publicized non-NATO ally. Pakistan government, Pakistan army and premier intelligence agency felt betrayed as they had sincerely helped and cooperated with America in the war on terror, whereas the CIA and even Pentagon had been hiding the facts from Pakistan. The information of Saudi intelligence that Osama bin Laden was already dead was a case in point. Even American media had hinted about his death. Anyhow, it was Pakistan’s ISI that had tracked down and nabbed scores of Al Qaeda fleeing rumps, including high-value like Khalid Shaikh Muhammad from Westridge, Rawalpindi. Others including Abu Faraj al-Libi were also arrested from urban hideouts in the country, but it was American sleuths who took all the credit. With the leaks in their media, they created an impression worldwide that it was CIA’s leads that had resulted in those arrests and detentions, not Pakistan intelligence agencies’ initiative.

Abu Faraj al-Libi, a Libyan citizen, became the operational head of Al Qaeda after the capture of Khalid Shaikh Muhammed in 2003. al-Libi was captured in Pakistan in May 2005. He was one of 16 detainees being held by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who were considered to be high-value. Both apparently played a role in the development of the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 — but not willingly, according to officials. In 2002 and 2003, interrogators first heard about al- Qaeda courier who used the pseudonym Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti - Pushto-speaking. According to reports, Pakistan had conducted operations in Faisalabad and Chitral perhaps on the information of the CIA. After al-Libi was captured in May 2005 and turned over to the C.I.A., he too was asked about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, but he gave a different name for Bin Laden’s courier. The accumulating intelligence about al-Kuwaiti persuaded C.I.A. officials to stay on his trail, and with the help of voice data, they could trace him. He in turn unwittingly led the agency to Bin Laden’s lair, where al-Kuwaiti (real name Ibrahim) and his brother Abrar were among those who died in the raid.

The fact of the matter is that Pakistan intelligence had kept a track on a telephone number, which was being operated from Pak-Afghan border areas. For a while it was operative from Peshawar, but became dormant at Abbottabad; yet its ally the US did not trust, as in efforts to hunt OBL, the ISI was deliberately side-lined by the CIA. Anyhow, Osama bin Laden episode had pushed Pakistan in a difficult position both internally and externally. Internally, it had triggered very disturbing questions in people’s minds. They were deeply flabbergasted as how come that our intelligence agencies were so ignorant that he was holed up in not a secluded niche but quite a populated residential area of bustling city like Abbottabad for so long. Of course, they later understood that the American raiders had jammed the Pakistani radars. Externally, this episode had precipitated gigantic problems for Pakistan. The first one was that it had given tremendous grist to Pakistan’s detractors campaigning to project it as global terrorism’s epicenter. Secondly, it had opened gates wide open to the Americans not only to intensify their drone attacks but also mount ground raids.

It is however strange that nobody countered US systematic campaigns to demonise Pakistan when they were playing a double game in anti-terrorism war to cover up their own falls in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Osama’s killing had come as a huge prize to President Barack Obama’s administration and tremendous booster to his own campaign to recapture the White House in the 2012 presidential race. In an opinion poll after about one week after Osama’s killing, President Barack Obama’s rating rose significantly among both Republicans and Independents. A total of 57 percent had said they approved of Obama’s job performance - up from 46 percent, and his negative ratings had fallen by eight points to 37 percent. But after 10 months i.e. in March 2012, at a time of rising gas prices, heightened talk of war with Iran and setbacks in Afghanistan, President Obama’s approval rating dropped substantially. The poll found, with 41 percent of respondents expressing approval of the job he is doing and 47 percent saying they disapprove — a dangerous position for any incumbent seeking re-election. It is rather premature to say that the elimination of Osama bin Laden would secure him a second term, because Americans are more concerned about American economy.

To improve his ratings, President Obama would try to capitalize on the Osama’s episode, and an offensive in international media is expected. Reportedly, Reuters, Associated Press, Financial Times, Fox News, CNN & BBC have allocations for specific budgets, and they are likely to resort to vicious propaganda that Pakistan is a safe haven for Al Qaeda/Taliban and a hub of Islamic extremism. They are hell bent on maligning Pakistan Army and ISI as behind the scene mentors of Jihadi elements. They would again raise the issue that such a long stay of OBL in Pakistan at different locations cannot be possible without information or support of the ISI. And they will continue with the litany that Pakistan is playing a duplicitous role, claiming front line ally of WOT and not releasing Shakeel Khan Afridi (a ‘real hero’ of 2nd May Operation). On 27th April, bin Laden family members have been deported to Saudi Arabia on their wish, and international media is likely to approach them for sensational revelations. It is worth mentioning that the US and the West had eulogized Osama bin Laden and presented him as a symbol who had sacrificed wealth and luxurious life for the sake of jihad against infidels.

However, the problem started after the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the US left Afghanistan at the mercy of the CIA to run the affairs of the region. In May 1988, the USSR had started withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, and in October 1990 as soon as the Soviet forces’ withdrawal was completed, U.S. cut off aid to Pakistan under Pressler Amendment. Earlier, aid had flowed in because the US president used to certify, under Section 620-E (e) of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of Pressler Amendment made in August 1985, that Pakistan did not possess nuclear device. After joining the war on terror, the US resumed aid to Pakistan, but losses incurred by Pakistan are estimated to be $60 billion, whereas Pakistan received not more than $15 billion. Instead of exacerbating the differences, the US should help Pakistan economically and militarily in a big way so that it can effectively fight terrorists and destroy them hook, line and sinker. If negative propaganda against Pakistan is not stopped, only terrorists can benefit; and both Pakistan and America stand to lose.