It is highly unlikely that the Pakistan army was unaware of Bin Laden’s presence in the Abbotabad hideout, say Pakistan experts in UK’s leading think tanks. While relations with the US have been bruised American dependence on Pakistan’s military establishment will ensure that the damage is not long lasting.
In view of past extremist attacks on army institutions, Alexander Neil, Head of the Asia programme at RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) says it “stretches credulity” to think that there was no vetting or surveillance of buildings in the vicinity of the Kakul Academy.
“There is even speculation that the compound was some form of house arrest” he adds.
Given Pakistan’s strategic interest to maintain influence in Afghanistan, Bin Laden may have been a bargaining chip the in this game.
Dr Farzana Shaikh, Associate Fellow the Asia Programme at Chatham House and author of ‘Making Sense of Pakistan’ goes one step further. “It is implausible that they knew nothing” she says.
“I think the military knew and possibly shared some intelligence with the US. It is an open secret that there is complicity and connivance of the Pakistan army in the drone attacks.”
What may have been different she adds was that the military were not told the timing and operational details of this raid.
The question, says Dr Shaikh, is not what the army knew but what they wanted in return for delivering Bin Laden. Given the heavy price they are paying in public outrage over the operation, she argues, the reward must be substantial. Pakistan watchers are noting the radical political realignments that have been taking place and the military’s attempts to cobble together a pliable coalition before the next elections, she points out. The reward, she concludes, may have been a green signal from the US for a military coup should the army consider it necessary.
Others are not so certain of the Pakistan army’s complicity in the raid and feel that Pak-US relations will go through a rocky period. Rahul Roy Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia at the IISS, believes that the Abbotabad operation will not however have long term ramifications for the Pak-US relationship. “The priority for the US right now is getting out of Afghanistan through a political deal and Pakistan has a key role to play in facilitating this” he says.
However, the level of unpleasantness between the two countries may depend on what further information comes out of the files taken by the US from Bin Laden’s compound. The US may decide to leak information damaging to Pakistan, suggests Alexander Neil, to increase its leverage with its military. Conditionalities attached to aid might be tightened up and stricter transparency demanded.
Commentators feel that recent events have brought into sharp focus the civilian/military relationship in Pakistan. It is frustrating that we do not have a government in place that can hold the military to account, says Farzana Shaikh. She points out that no resignations have been offered and the military’s only response, the demand for a scaling down of US operations in Pakistan, was already in place after the Raymond Davis episode.
Alexander Neil accepts Pakistan’s allies spend huge amounts of energy engaging with the military rather than the civilians. Some culpability for Pakistan’s predicament must be shared by US and other allies and how they have engaged with Pakistan, he says.