David Ignatius
David Ignatius
Opinion Writer

From Pakistan, answers needed about Osama bin Laden

Let’s see if we’ve got the numbers straight: Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals — and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?

Can this possibly be true? I suppose that if U.S. intelligence officials could fail to connect the dots about the 9/11 plot, then perhaps Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate could be equally incompetent. And U.S. officials, with the cautious tone of witnesses who hope they won’t have to testify at the trial, keep repeating that they haven’t found the “smoking gun” that would confirm official Pakistani knowledge about the al-Qaeda chief hiding in Abbottabad.

David Ignatius

Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.

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But this isn’t a question for Americans, really. It’s a matter for Pakistani officials. They can tear down bin Laden’s compound — as Pakistani bulldozers did recently in a cleansing maneuver that reminded me of Lady Macbeth’s famous line, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” But they can’t wish away questions about the jihadist network that surrounded bin Laden and his accomplices during their nearly decade-long sojourn in the country. Here are some questions Pakistanis (with U.S. acquiescence) have been ducking too long:

● How did bin Laden come to settle in Abbottabad? His movements are described by his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, in an Islamabad police report. She says that “everything was arranged by” two men she called “Ibrahim” and “Abrar” who shared their safe houses in the Swat Valley, Haripur and, finally, Abbottabad.

What did the Pakistani authorities know about these Pashtun brothers? U.S. officials believe that one of them, known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, was bin Laden’s key courier. An intrepid Associated Press reporter found last week their house in Haripur; the real estate broker said he had rented it to “Salim and Javed Khan,” who claimed to be from Charsadda, just north of Peshawar.

The AP reported that, according to a relative of the house’s owner, “two months ago, several ISI agents took all the records of the house and its tenants.” The same thing seems to have happened with the property records for the Abbottabad compound. What do these documents show? The ISI should explain.

● What role was played by Brig. Ijaz Shah? According to comments by Gen. Ziauddin Butt, a former ISI chief, Shah arranged the al-Qaeda leader’s 2005 move to Abbottabad. At the time, Shah, a retired ISI officer, was running another spy agency, the Intelligence Bureau, for his patron, President Pervez Musharraf.

Shah’s name had surfaced in February 2002 as the alleged handler of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who claimed a role in kidnapping Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. It turned out that Pearl had been handed over to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the al-Qaeda mastermind, who beheaded him. Some Pakistanis argue that Sheikh was part of a jihadist organization, Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, that had close ties to Shah and the ISI. What does the ISI say?

● And where was the notorious KSM hiding out when he was captured in March 2003? He was at a Rawalpindi safe house linked to Ahmed Abdul Qudoos Khan, who is described in press reports as a member of Pakistan’s oldest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami. Pakistani analysts say this group, too, has long had quiet links with the ISI and the military.

● How about Abu Zubaida, the al-Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in March 2002? He was seized in Faisalabad at what was described in press reports as a safe house for the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba, which is also alleged to have close links with the ISI. The ISI is said to have joined in his capture, but did they have advance word he was there?

● What about the Pakistani sojourn of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian al-Qaeda operative involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa? He was captured in July 2004 in the eastern city of Gujrat, far from the tribal areas. How did he get there? And what about Ramzi Binalshibh, a facilitator of the 9/11 attacks who was captured in September 2002 in Karachi. How did he make his way undetected to Pakistan’s commercial capital?

Perhaps the answers to these questions will show the ISI in a favorable light, providing helpful intelligence to the CIA. Perhaps they will tell a darker story of concealment and complicity. Either way, it’s time for some answers.

davidignatius@washpost.com

 
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