The Osama card has been played

Because al-Afghanistan is now more valuable than al-Faida

According to television reports, Osama bin Laden has been killed by US forces at a mansion outside Islamabad Abbottabad. If this is true, it supports the long-held contention that Mr bin Laden was not hiding in a cave in the Hindu Kush, but rather, living it up in a safe house in a Pakistani city.

His death also means that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex gave him up. This will allow Barack Obama to declare victory and pull US troops out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani army can then orchestrate an post-US dispensation wherein its proxies first share power with the Karzai regime. And then, sometime in the near future, take over power.

That’s how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex would like it to play out. They’ve played the Osama card rather well. They got their al-Faida. Now they want their al-Afghanistan.

In the world of realpolitik, the United States is unlikely punish Pakistan for the decade of duplicity, subterfuge and violence that consumed innumerable lives and astounding amounts of money. Rather, it is more likely to want to leave with a dispensation in Afghanistan that provides plausible reassurances of not playing host to terrorists targeting the United States. It will try to make these reassurances credible by ensuring anti-Taliban anti-Pakistan elements remain powerful within the Afghan establishment. It will perhaps retain covert action capability to back this up with direct action. That said, it will accede to Pakistani demands for a role for its proxies and pro-Pakistan elements to acquire some power.

Indian strategists and analysts would do well to dust-off their memories, records and papers from the early 1990s. It is not question of if, but when, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will redirect its attention towards India. The singular challenge for India is to prevent a relapse of the 1990s.

Update [2 May, 1724 IST]: According to a subsequent briefing by senior US government officials, the operation to kill Osama bin Laden was carried out without the knowledge and support of Pakistani agencies. If this is true, the Osama card was not played by the Pakistani military establishment, but rather, snatched from their hand by the United States. Even so, the implications, in terms of US withdrawal plans and the future of Afghanistan, remain the same.

19 thoughts on “The Osama card has been played”

  1. In fact it won’t be surprising, Mr Kayani and others in the GHQ will be strategising on Afghanistan post US pull out. It won’t be surprising to see another political mayhem in Afghanistan courtesy Kayani and his other cronies.

  2. The BBC page you link to doesn’t mention Abbottabad or a mansion. Can you confirm that from elsewhere?

  3. Dear Nitin,

    I agree with your analysis. Clearly the Pakistani MJC (Military-Jihadi Complex) has decided that Osama was more valuable to them dead than alive. I wonder though to what extent their hand was forced by the appointment of David Petraeus as the new Head of the CIA and the obviously bad blood between the CIA and the ISI.

    Unfortunately the Wagah border candle-holding types will not heed your advice. Already the BCCI has had its arm twisted by the Manmohan Singh government into announcing a tour of Pakistan in 2012. Irrespective of what happens in Afghanistan, the MJC will now be free to focus all of its attention on India. With the kind of non-leadership that we have in place, I very much fear that there will be lots of terrorist attacks in India in the months and years ahead. I pray ahead of time for all the innocents who are going to be killed.

  4. while happy for US, it makes one uneasy about the operation. UBL living in a mansion as a state guest (or just ISI or MJC) all these years while thousands of US servicemen lost lives in this war. and a May operation to orchestrate the already announced pull out in July. how much was Pres. Obama and the US involved in this theater? did every American meeting with Pakistanis in the last ten years, involve the former begging access to UBL and the latter quoting a higher price?

  5. I’m not too sure about whether the ISI actually did him in, though I can see the many advantages accruing to them if it did. It can stake claim now to continued money flows and other aid and also give the US a chance to declare victory and catch the first plane back home. Afghanistan will be putty in their hands once again. But how does it explain the fact that OBL with his wives and six children lived there reportedly for a few years, right under their very noses and they knew nothing? (According to a report on CNN, I think it was, those captured include some of his children, two wives and a few AQ fighters).

    Obama may publicly endorse the official Pakistani line, his passport out from Afghanistan, but the media will sniff out the details over the next few weeks. The US went to war to get OBL and not the taliban. They can now finally say ‘mission accomplished’. Obama’s re-election too just got that much easier.

    There is absolutely no doubt though that there will be a repeat of events in India, as happened after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the US lost interest. All that weaponry, all those trained fighters, who have no one to fight against, will be concentrated on India again. 1989 is back.

    History will repeat itself.

  6. I am just interested in what they may discovered in his mansion. Documents, codes, info on the Al Qaida networks..? Here’s hoping wikileaks/anonymous are still in the game.

  7. Well said Nitin, this is the first analysis since morning which has avoided playing into the popular sentiment, the fact that US was able to carry out such a complicated operation so easily deep inside Pakistani territory itself suggests that the Pak military has given up on Osama as a quid pro quo.

    hope Indian government is alert and watching.

  8. 1. the fact that he was found in the abbottabad and not in tora bora suggests that pak army and ISI knew about his whereabouts..

    2. the fact he remained there for more than a year.. or as some reports suggests.. since 2005.. suggests that he was no longer thought to be that important, to be protected by moving him from one place to another every few days.

    3 the fact that American was looking forward to the exit from Afghanistan stale-mate and that too after claiming victory, made it necessary for all those involved to sacrifice him on the condition that america should reduce it’s presence from the region.

    4. the fact that he was not cough alive makes one believe in many conspiracy theories..but most practical one may be that he will spill the bin of his contacts with ISI.. and hence one of the precondition for ISI to allow the strike only on the condition of him being caught dead.

  9. Pakistan could not have played the “Osama card”, because, if they did want to do so, they would have carried the operation out themselves. An “osama card” would have entailed a Pakistani operation to ‘nab’ Osama, followed by a secret handover of the body to the U.S. (like all other previous such operations).

    Now, instead, they look like fools because the world believes that Pakistan let Osama hide in plain sight in Abbotabad.

    1. my guess is.. even if pak did provide info, they will shy away from taking credit. the earlier events like lal mosque gave the ample proof of what can happen if the pak authority owned up anti terror ops.. and osama was not mere terrorist.. he was ideologue.. and his struggle had genuine anti imperialistic appeal. he had followers and sympathisers world over. by denying their part in this operation.. the already weak pak establishment will try to save it’s skin from their anger..

      and other part is.. has osama became dispensable to sacrifice him..? because if we believe the report, the compound was built in 2005.. and was under US surveillance since august 2010.. and osama never ventured outside his house.. (his only contact with the outside world.. it seems is the “courier”) hardly a sign of an active leader.

      in fact.. Osama was now relegated to largely figurehead of the organisation.. was not in control of day to day ops.. was a largely symbolic figure.. to rally all factions of al queda behind it.

      the consequences of his death..
      i think it is hard to predict.. as there will be different reactions from different factions.. some veering towards moderate.. and some going in extremely violent way.. the force which had a certain direction (largely westwards) till now.. will now focus their anger in all targets they think are sympathetic to west. thus India, which till now was never a priority for this organisation, will have to be ready to face major events in recent future.
      also, the current events in middle east , Egypt etc.. “if successful” will give the space for anti west forces a legitimate voice to make their grievances heard.. thus many in al queda fold in that part of the world will embrace more moderate way.

      This provide the west an opportunity to stop their one man focussed operations, without arousing mass sentiments at home.. and try to see what went wrong in years preceding all this carnage of terror. dont know if west will grab the opportunity or not.

  10. If the pakis gave osama up then they would have taken the precaution to actually fly him down with wife and kids to a torabora cave and then rat on the americans. This did not happen.

    What is likely to have happened here is a combination of factors. American spy satellite intel combines with the cracking of the internal communication systems of pakis that led the trail finally to the compound.

    The kill was carried out by a unit known as JSOC that eluded pakistani air defense systems and radars. These are two very good reads on the kill. Link 1 Link 2

    1. actually..if we accept that the ISI was in know about it.. and they did provide the information to america.. then.. many things make sense..
      the reason for obama’s capture in abbottabad and not in tora bora has baffled many. but that was on purpose..
      the military who had to take lots of flak during raymond davis issue with local public.. was on backfoot..
      sending a message to the civilian govt who was going forward with the talks with india was also important.. the message (capture of osama in ABBOTTABAD) was more directed towards india..(it was as if.. they wanted to show the world that we have many such people like osama in our hideouts.. ).. they let the civil govt to face the flaks worldwide..
      now.. ManMohan singh who had made normalisation of relation with pak as his core agenda.. and he expressed this quite openly.. but now.. who in india will want to have a peace talks with pakistan? no one in india will risk the talks with pakistan given the negative domestic opinion now. the pak govt is to be blamed for many things.. but in particular the pak govt’s inability or purposeful overlooking of the hafiz saeed issue is the biggest deterrent in the relationship.. bigger than osama..

  11. –Now, instead, they look like fools because the world believes that Pakistan let Osama hide in plain sight in Abbottabad.

    No, they made fools of the US. That doesn’t make them look like fools at all–not after building him a complex 6 years ago, and letting him live there. That it took the US years to figure out where he was, and only eventually did so with intelligence from Gitmo is even more damning. Why didn’t the building of this compound raise the flags in the first place? How could the US have no eyes on target in there for 6 years?

    That bodes worse for India, though, because the US will not want to look a fool and will pretend instead that they received cooperation rather than flatten Pakistan.

  12. I don’t see Pakistan surviving another five years. The US is bound to slowly start pulling the plug on Pakistan, which may to some extent be filled by Saudi Arabia. However, the Al Qaeda/Taliban/LeT/JeM/Haqqani etc. groups are going to want revenge, and before they set their eyes on the US, they will go after the dummy Pak Govt, and definitely the ISI for having turned on their spiritual leader OBL. That has already happened and the Al Qaeda have staged processions saying they will seek revenge from the Pak establishment. I think the ISI stepped on the wrong foot here. Pakistan, I am convinced, is heading towards outright civil war. The main danger to India is that rogue elements (I wonder if ‘un-rogue’ elements even exist in that country), will eventually get their hands on to the nuclear weapons.

    Under current leadership that only looks at appeasing a certain vote-bank, India will probably never take any proactive measures. I see a gigantic threat looming for India in the not too faraway future.

  13. US relations with Pakistan have grown substantially in the last decade. Coincidently started around the 9/11 incident.
    Since then despite the numerous occasions where Pakistan has made a total mockery of the US funding, there have been no, strong steps taken by the US, atleast not more than a few speeches by the Presidents office…
    If we were to believe a few documentaries revealing the 9/11 conspiracy, where they point the finger back to US, and provide evidence of how the US managed the whole SAGA as an international terrorist attack. All the pieces seem to fall into place now.
    After 9/11 was completed, they needed a NAME and a FACE for the incident,, and they had Osama leading the charts, and who better to take care of him than Pakistan.
    Fund them at their will, and protect their wrong doing.

    The fact that US raiding without the knowledge of Pakistan officials is also hard to believe, as they would have notified when using their air space. Pakistan’s intelligence is good enough to monitor such a high profile activity, specially when its from the US. To top it all up, the body was disposed off into the ocean, so there could be no chance of a SECOND Autopsy or question regarding the identity of the dead…

    This could go on and on,, and yet not finish. But somehow the world seems to have bought the story of OBL killed by US army, but this is far from convincing to me…

  14. But what really powers the Military-Jehadi Complex? It is Islam or Radical Islam or Political Islam, whatever you wish to call it. The only long term solution to India’s security problem is to deal with this ideology. First at home, and ensure the return of its adherents to India’s native culture from which they have been forcibly cutoff. And then broaden the offensive outside of India. Meanwhile the military needs to provide fire-cover to these ideological warriors.

  15. There are some gaping holes in this Osama ‘trade off’ theory.It is suggested that the ISI turned over Osama to the CIA in a prearranged and set-up operation conducted by the Americans.Just a moment,let us answer some questions.Why did the Pak Army elite choose Abbottabad, a deeply entrenched town near the Pak capital for the purported ‘turn over’? Couldnt they choose a less risky,easily reachable place from among the many small towns along the Durrand line?The Special Force Op was very difficult,it could have failed also.Why would they ‘set-up’ such a difficult scenario? The graphic photos of three dead persons which have been leaked through the Pak press provide a chilling insight into how violent the episode was.Why was there such a ghastly firefight if the Osama hand-over had to be a ‘stage managed’ event?Why would the Americans risk it so much for a trade off…by going to Abbottabad? After all they lost a helicopter and who knows…may be some men too.Does a stage managed activity allow such losses? Secondly,as being inferred by some,the Osama turn-over at this time is unlikely to do much good to the Paki grand dream of strategic depth.Consider the following:
    (a) Given the continuous downslide of US-Pak relations,is too much to assume that Pak and China have a Plan B for Afghanistan?Will Pak do something as
    stupid as this if it has such a plan in mind?Handing over Osama will certainly give that much required sense of victory to fillip Prez Obama’s re-election prospects.That allows the administration to entrench deeper and longer in Afghanistan – on the pretext of the GWOT.After all they are not going to ‘pull-out’ or withdraw the way you think they would – it would be mere tokenism because America’s interests are long term and will not end with defeating Taliban.America has learnt from its past mistakes -it will leave no vacuum in Afghanistan like they did last time.
    (b) What about the backlash that is bound to come on the Pak establishment from the TTP and its associated tanzeems?
    (c) Has this not left the Pak top leadership looking completely
    incompetent and lame duck in the eyes of their own
    countrymen,particularly their main support -the Islamists?Which Army can afford this?Not the proud Pakistanis certainly.
    (d) What strategic depth will you gain in Afghanistan when the entire
    Pushtun resistance there will now be incensed by the ‘betrayal’ of the
    Pak Army leadership?In fact they have recently given the war cry for a ‘spring offensive’ against the foreigners – it will extend to Pakistan too.
    So when we scratch the surface of this ‘turn-in theory’,there are more questions than answers.Lets give it to the Americans – they did some fantastic Int gathering and followed it up with an equally spectacular mission.Pakis were simply caught napping.

Comments are closed.