WASHINGTON: It took less than 24 hours for a moment of triumph to turn into another diplomatic test for Pakistan.
The initial relief and jubilation over the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, dissipated rapidly when a top US presidential aide refused to rule out official support by Pakistan to the al Qaeda chief during his 10-year hiding.
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser, said during a White House briefing on Monday that it was, “inconceivable that Bin Laden did not have a support system in the country to allow him to stay there for an extended period of time.”
Pressed on whether the United States believed that Pakistani authorities actually didn’t know where Bin Laden was hiding, Brennan replied: “We are pursuing all leads on this issue … to find out exactly what type of support system and benefactors that Bin Laden would have had.”
“I won’t speculate on what type of support he would have had on an official basis, and we are talking to the Pakistanis right now,” he added
Questions had already begun to surface after Bin Laden, who has been in hiding for nearly a decade following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, was located in the city of Abbottabad, in the backyard of the Pakistan military’s most prestigious institution, the Kakul military academy. The Pakistan Army chief had delivered a speech at the institute just days ago.
US special forces conducted an early Monday raid on a sprawling compound in Abbottabad, in which Bin Laden was killed.
Brennan also told reporters that the US commandos on the raid had been ready to take the al Qaeda chief alive if that had been possible.
Meanwhile, US lawmakers also demanded to know how the world’s most wanted man could have resided – apparently for years – in a comfortable home in a major city such as Abbottabad.
Pakistan will need to “prove to us that they didn’t know that Bin Laden was there,” said Senator Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, predicting “real pressure” on Islamabad.
Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the same committee, called for “more strings attached” to the billions of dollars which the United States offers Pakistan in military assistance.
“I think that this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game and that is very troubling to me,” she said.
Even arch rivals India weighed in with its ‘concern’ over the location of Bin Laden’s hideout.
Obama, Hillary guarded
But the Obama administration was initially careful in avoiding criticism of Pakistan.
Announcing bin Laden’s death late Sunday, President Obama said that “our counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden.”
Following US President’s comments, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said that cooperation with Pakistan helped lead the United States to the hideout where Bin Laden was killed by US forces.
The chief US diplomat played up Washington’s cooperation with Islamabad despite doubts she and other US officials have voiced in the past about Pakistani willingness to work with the United States to root out Al-Qaeda.
It is “important to note that our counter-terrorism cooperation over a number of years now with Pakistan contributed greatly to our efforts to dismantle Al-Qaeda,” Clinton told reporters
“In fact, cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding,” Clinton said.
In fact, a senior US intelligence official said: “We have no indications that the Pakistanis were aware that Osama bin Laden was at the compound in Abbottabad.”
Clinton stirred outrage during a visit to Pakistan in October 2009 when she took issue with Islamabad’s position that the Al-Qaeda leadership is not in Pakistan.
“Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002,” Clinton told senior Pakistani newspaper editors in Lahore.
“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,” she added.
However, following news of Bin Laden’s killing, Clinton put the emphasis on the common cause of both the United States and Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2011.
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