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Brief takes // by Ben FrankelBin Laden's killing: intriguing questions, few answers

Published 2 May 2011

The brilliant operation conducted by the U.S. Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden should be celebrated, but the information provided so far by the administration leaves many questions unanswered; one of them has to do with Pakistan: it is inconceivable that bin Laden and his entourage could have stayed in their ostentatious compound for five years without elements in the Pakistani security services protecting them; it is bad enough for Pakistan to train and support several local Islamist terrorist groups so that they do Pakistan’s bidding in its conflict with India; it is another thing altogether for Pakistan to help hide the leader of a movement that declared war on — and has pursued active acts of war against — the United States, and do so while receiving billions of dollars in aid from the United States; we typically use the adjective “ambivalent” to describe Pakistan’s attitude toward the war on Islamic terrorism; perhaps it is time to search for another adjective; there are also some intriguing questions about the operational aspects of the raid on bin Laden’s compound

The brilliant operation conducted by the U.S. Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden should be celebrated, but the information provided so far by the administration leaves many questions unanswered. Here are a few of them:
1. Pakistan
A. Advise and consent
In his speech last night, the president thanked Pakistan for its help in the operation, and gave the impression that the Pakistanis gave permission for the operation. Other administration officials, in background conversations, said no other country was involved, or informed about, the operation.

The truth is probably something like this:

There is little doubt that there was no consultation or sharing of information at the professional level. It is highly unlikely that the CIA and the U.S. military advised their Pakistani counterparts of the information that reached the United States last August about bin Laden’s location, and about the plans being drawn up to kill him. The Pakistani military and intelligence service (ISI) are so penetrated by Islamists sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, that sharing information with these organizations means that the information will find its way to the terrorists sooner rather than later.

Some parts of ISI support the Taliban and several Pakistani Islamist organizations with weapons, training, and intelligence, and use them as foot soldiers in Pakistan’s campaign to gain control of the disputed territory of Kashmir and, more generally, as a weapon against India and pro-Indian actors in the region.

Not sharing information at the professional level before or during the operation does not mean that President Obama did not call President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan while the helicopters were on their way to bin Laden’s compound – or, more likely, after the operation was concluded but before the Navy Seal team left Pakistani soil – to advise the Pakistani president of the operation.

This way, the United States could “share” information with the Pakistani leadership, in the process giving the impression of consultation and information sharing – that the United States was seeking Pakistan’s advice and consent — but without jeopardizing the operation. Obama could thus thank Zardari for Pakistani cooperation – an assertion which can be seen as technically and linguistically correct – and thus maintain the appearance that the United States did not violate Pakistani sovereignty and that the Pakistani leadership was on board.

B. Pakistan’s ambivalence
There is no hiding the fact that bin Laden’s presence, in his ostentatious compound in the middle of a Pakistani town and