Pakistanis Question Who Knew What About Bin Laden

May 12, 2011
Originally published on May 12, 2011 6:22 am
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In Pakistan, there are calls for an independent investigation into what the Army and the intelligence agency knew about Osama bin Laden's hideout. From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy has more on the dispute and the prevailing theories about who may have known that bin Laden lived for years near the country's premier military academy.

JULIE MCCARTHY: In contrast, the prime minister announced that the adjutant general of Pakistan would head a probe to also consider how the U.S. infringed on the country's territory.

MONTAGNE: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: Rashid Rahman, editor of Pakistan Daily Times, says the civilian government knows well the risks of ordering such an independent review of the powerful military. Rahman says having missed bin Laden at the doorstep of its premier training academy, the army has, quote, "been hoisted on its own petard," an institution that he says is Pakistan's most privileged and revered.

MONTAGNE: And here, lo and behold, suddenly, they are shown with so much egg on their face, you could make 60 omelets out of it. So, people are saying: Look, how is it that you missed something so basic, you idiots?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: So who, if anyone, knew that Osama bin Laden was holed up here with three wives and eight of his children? Retired Lieutenant General Tallat Mahsood says the most charitable explanation is that some wealthy influential who may have helped place bin Laden in the compound tips off the local authorities.

MCCARTHY: And takes them into confidence and bribes them in a way to a point where they're prepared to accept that there is somebody who is living, so long as, you know, it is his guy. But apart from that, it's extremely unlikely that people at the top did not know, and were not aware of this for so many years.

MCCARTHY: But newspaper editor Rahman says it is totally illogical that the military brass knew. He says ever since the 2007 siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, al-Qaida was waging an all-out war against Pakistan and its army. And prior to that, Pakistan had turned over scores of al-Qaida fighters to the Americans.

MONTAGNE: There was no love lost between al-Qaida and our military establishment. They had no stakes in or with al-Qaida. And, of course, to stave off American pressure, the best solution, give them al-Qaida, save the Afghan Taliban for a rainy day.

MCCARTHY: Columnist Rafia Zakaria, a Pakistani who resides in the United States, says most Pakistanis cannot imagine that the army would be so incompetent as to not know bin Laden was in Pakistan. She says it's too formidable a burden to believe that this one institution that has imposed itself on the Pakistani people could also be, like the rest, somewhat inept.

MONTAGNE: It's because they cannot digest the fact that the military could have failed to do something so central.

MCCARTHY: Pakistanis are angered most at the failure to intercept the U.S. commandos on their soil. Moreover, Zakaria says for many, eliminating bin Laden was not going to eliminate terrorism.

MONTAGNE: And eliminating him has come at the cost of humiliating the whole Pakistani nation. So, no. In their eyes, that was not worth the cost.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.