NEW DELHI – The killing of Osama bin Laden by United States special forces in a helicopter assault on a sprawling luxury mansion near Islamabad recalls the capture of other Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistani cities. Once again, we see that the real terrorist sanctuaries are located not along Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan and India, but in the Pakistani heartland.
This, in turn, underlines another fundamental reality – that the fight against international terrorism cannot be won without demilitarizing and de-radicalizing Pakistan, including by rebalancing civil-military relations there and reining in the country’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Other terrorist leaders captured in Pakistan since 9/11 – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s third in command; Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief; Yasser Jazeeri; Abu Faraj Farj; and Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the coordinators of 9/11 – were also found living in cities across Pakistan. If there is any surprise about bin Laden’s hideout, it is its location in a military town, Abbottabad, in the shadow of an army academy.
This only underscores the major protection that bin Laden must have received from elements of the Pakistani security establishment to help him elude the US dragnet for nearly a decade. The breakthrough in hunting him down came only after the US, even at the risk of rupturing its longstanding ties with the Pakistani army and ISI, deployed a number of CIA operatives, Special Operations forces, and contractors deep inside Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistani military.