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Bin Laden Killing Puts Pakistan On The Spot

Afghans, Pakistanis React To Bin Laden's Death
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WATCH: Afghans, Pakistanis react to bin Laden's death.

The nearly decade-long hunt for the world's most-wanted man has ended. But the death of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the early hours of May 2 has put the spotlight on Pakistan, the place of his ultimate demise.

A team of U.S. forces killed bin Laden not in a remote region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but in Abbottabad, a large Pakistani city about 60 kilometers north of the capital.

The helicopter raid and conclusive firefight took place in a recently built and heavily fortified compound just a stone's throw from the country's top military academy where, only two weeks earlier, Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Kayani said the military had broken the back of terrorists.
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And the operation was carried out without notifying Islamabad beforehand, adding to the long list of questions being raised about the West's trust in its ally in the war in terror.

Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London, characterized reports that Washington did not notify Pakistan about the operation beforehand as significant.

Recalling accusations U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made in July, in which she claimed Pakistani officials were withholding information about bin Laden's whereabouts, Shaikh says the issue was "a great source of mistrust" between the increasingly belligerent allies.

"It is almost unquestionably going to deepen suspicion and confirm people's worst fears about Pakistan's complicity," he says, "particularly the complicity of its military and intelligence services, in protecting bin Laden."

Cause For Concern

Officially, Pakistan praised the development.

"Osama bin Laden's death illustrates the resolve of the international community, including Pakistan, to fight and eliminate terrorism," read a statement issued by the Foreign Office on May 2. "It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world."

Former Pakistani Brigadier General Saad Muhammad, speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, notes that U.S. President Barack Obama hinted at some level of cooperation from Islamabad. But if the Pakistani security agencies did not, in fact, know that bin Laden was on Pakistani territory, he said, it is cause for concern.

"If Pakistan didn't know about his presence, then it is a bad omen," Muhammad says. "It will raise questions about the ability of the Pakistani intelligence agencies. How can they not know about somebody living in a [peaceful] municipal area so close to the military garrison?"

Credibility Harmed

Pakistani civilian and military leaders had strongly ruled out the possibility of bin Laden's presence there for nearly a decade, and his killing on Pakistani soil has already harmed its credibility in the region. The leaders of both Afghanistan and India pointed to bin Laden's killing as evidence of their long-standing concerns about Pakistan being a sanctuary for terrorists.

"We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which President Obama said that the firefight in which Osama bin Laden was killed took place in Abbottabad 'deep inside Pakistan,'" Indian Home Minister P. Chidambram said in a statement posted on the ministry's website. "This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan."

In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, without naming Afghanistan's eastern neighbor, said the killing of bin Laden buttressed his argument that the West fight its war against terrorism in places where terrorists have sanctuary.

"The world must know, as we have said repeatedly over the years, almost every day, that the war on terrorism should not be fought in the villages of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "The war against terrorism should not be fought in homes of oppressed Afghans and cannot be won by bombing innocent women and children of Afghanistan. The war on terror should be fought in the sanctuaries, the hubs and the recruiting centers of terrorists. Today it's been proved that it's like that."

'Uptick In Violence'

Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid says that the killing of bin Laden will have immediate repercussions for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. He says Al-Qaeda and allied extremists might target Pakistani, Afghan, and intentional forces in neighboring countries, while Al-Qaeda affiliates such as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Taiba might launch attacks in India to divert attention from the main theater in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

New Delhi and Washington accuse Lashkar-e Taiba of being behind the 2008 attacks in the Indian commercial capital, Mumbai, that killed 160 people.

"I fear very much that there can be an uptick in violence in the region," Rashid says. "And, of course, it can be followed by suicide attacks elsewhere in Europe and the United States. There will be revenge attacks."

RFE/RL Radio Mashaal's Shaheen Buneri contributed to this report
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.