Much of the Abbottabad Commission report makes for rather humdrum reading. So Pakistan through incompetence – rather than conspiracy – failed to find the world’s most wanted man? Really? And the air defence systems are set up to watch India rather than the Afghan border? Didn’t I read that somewhere before?
There are nice details about bin Laden’s life on the run, of course, and some fresh accounts of the US raid to kill him.
But perhaps the most important thing for analysts and observers is the chance to hear from senior military figures, the then head of the ISI, for example, people who rarely speak publicly. So this tells us quite a bit more about Pakistan’s drone deal than we knew before…
Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who headed Pakistan’s premier Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency at the time of bin Laden’s killing in 2011, told investigators that drone strikes had their uses.
“The DG (director general) said there were no written agreements. There was a political understanding,” the report said.
The Americans had been asked to stop drone strikes because they caused civilian casualties, but “it was easier to say no to them in the beginning, but ‘now it was more difficult’ to do so,” it quoted the former spymaster as saying.
“Admittedly the drone attacks had their utility, but they represented a breach of national sovereignty. They were legal according to American law but illegal according to international law,” the report quoted the ISI chief as saying.
He also confirmed that Shamsi air base, in southwestern Pakistan, had been used for US drone strikes against people in the country.
I suspect his actual thinking may not be quite as muddled as the report suggests but once again it shows Pakistan’s deception over the use of drones.
Was a little shocked travelling through Lahore the other day to see an image of Osama bin Laden adorning the back of a rickshaw, until it was pointed out to me that it was an advert for a book. Seconds later, this trundled past…
Here’s stuff I’ve been reading on bin Laden’s targeted assassination, as one of my liberal Israeli friends insists on calling it. It’s not exhaustive, just a list of stuff…
Pakistan and Osama bin Laden: How the West was conned – my colleague Praveen Swami on Pakistan’s history of meddling with extremism
Osama bin Laden: family guy with three wives, nine children and a cow to keep – inside the bolthole
Even in 2002, bin Laden was hiding in plain view – journo spots tall bloke with beard wearing shalwaar kameez leaving mosque in Islamabad OR misses world exclusive. You decide
10 ways Barack Obama botched the aftermath of the masterful operation to kill Osama bin Laden – how a bungled media campaign shifted focus to White House amateur hour
New Osama urges UK terror blitz – The Sun’s email sting. I’m hoping The News of the World is dusting off the fake sheikh’s outfit as we speak
Dismissing our enemies as lunatics will get us nowhere – right. But does this go too far? “There have been too many moments during the decade-long hunt for bin Laden when there has appeared to be a horrible symmetry between al-Qaeda and the US.”
Osama bin Laden is either dead, alive or with Tupac – maybe I’ve been in Pakistan too long, but not all of these are as outlandish as they first seem
Posted in pakistan
Tagged bin laden
There’s not much you can do. Sometimes you have to leave your patch. You can’t watch it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It might be a holiday. Or training. Or it’s an assignment elsewhere in the world. You try to read the runes as best you can and, if there’s nothing better brewing at base, you leave – usually with an anxious glance over your shoulder.
No journalist wants to miss a story an hour’s drive from his or her house.
But it happens. No-one can predict the future. Sometimes lady luck is not smiling on you. It’s just one of those things. On an intellectual level you tell yourself that these things balance out – that for every chance scoop so too one goes the wrong way, a bit like the ref’s whistle. Nothing you can do about it, bar chaining yourself to your desk. Not your fault. No-one’s to blame. That’s the rational discussion, the reasonable interpretation.
That doesn’t change the fact that I am racing from Benghazi back home to Islamabad holding back the enormous urge to vomit my churning guts all over my shoes.
So Hassan al-Turabi is once more back in prison, something of a home from home for him since he fell out of bed with President Omar al Bashir. Still, it gives him a chance to catch up on his reading.
What got him into trouble was an interview with AFP in which he suggested that Sudan – where the Southern referendum is certain to end in secession, and with a president already wanted for war crimes – was ripe for a Tunisian-style revolution.
“This country has known popular uprisings before,” Turabi said, referring to revolts which toppled military regimes in 1964 and 1985.
“What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan,” he said, referring to the month-long deadly protests that prompted Ben Ali to take refuge in Saudi Arabia after 23 years of iron-fisted rule.
“If it doesn’t, then there will be a lot of bloodshed.”
Government security forces swooped hours later, claiming his party was planning protests. All trumped up of course. But one intriguing twist to this tale is the figure of Rachid Ghannouchi, exiled leader of Tunisia’s Islamist al Nahda party, who is watching events unfold from London as he considers returning to his homeland. Today he calls himself a moderate, progressive leader who has argued that women’s rights are central to modern Islam. Remind you of anyone?
Yes, Ghannouchi considers himself a student of Turabi, the man who plotted the rise of an Islamist government to power in Sudan and who invited the world’s most dangerous terrorists to Khartoum, including Osama bin Laden.
All of that is largely historical. Turabi is clearly not the threat he once was. But it’s just a reminder of how far his web extends – and what a fascinating character he remains.
From time to time governments in this part of world claim to have uncovered a coup plot or a terrorist cell, round-up dozens of harmless opposition supporters, lock ‘em up and throw away the key. So in August I initially dismissed reports of a terrorist plot in Khartoum. President Bashir, it seemed, was taking the opportunity to remove a few thorns in his side from public view.
But as time went on it became clear that this was not the usual stunt. The British embassy shut down for a few days and diplomats warned citizens against travel to Khartoum. On my last visit to Khartoum, in September, I spoke to security experts who told me the prospect of an international peacekeeping force on Sudanese soil raises a very real prospect of Islamic terrorism. The bomb plot was very real indeed and was directed at several western targets, including the British embassy. Meanwhile rumours were flying around the city of foreign Jihadists spotted buying supplies at markets in Darfur. And of al Qaeda training camps in the mountains.
So the emergence of a fresh recording, purportedly by Osama bin Laden, urging holy war in Darfur is going to be taken very seriously, not least by those nations offering troops to the proposed hybrid force.
The danger, once again, is that an outside power is turning Darfur’s complex conflict into something that it isn’t. This isn’t about Arabs versus non-Arabs. Farmers against nomads. Or Muslims against infidels. It is about different players using whatever badges of convenience they can find to recruit allies. Bin Laden is a past master at this, and we mustn’t let him dictate the rules of the game.