The Osama Tale: Stranger and Stranger
Recently by Eric Margolis: Why bin Laden's Ghost Is Smiling
My Pakistani security intelligence sources told me five years ago that Osama bin Laden was hiding in an urban area in Pakistan.
If I, a humble journalist, had a good idea where OBL was, why did it take CIA so long to find one elderly man who had brazenly set out to defeat the mighty American Imperium?
The whole Osama bin Laden saga keeps getting more and more bizarre and incredible. I am reminded of the ending of the film the Wizard of Oz, wherein the fearsome wizard is revealed as a frightened old man with fake scenery and a terrifying noise box.
Just when we thought US-Pakistani relations could not get more poisonous, America's most hated was finally discovered in lovely, downtown Abbottabad, Pakistan, a mere stroll from that nation's military academy. The Saudi Dr. Fu Manchu was living in a run-down villa, not the "luxury mansion" described by over-excited reports.
Furious US government officials and legislators accuse Pakistan of duplicity, treachery, and betrayal. Ordinary Americans are enraged against Pakistan, a staunch ally since the 1950's.
In a recent WikiLeak, a US diplomat actually branded Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, "a terrorist organization."
The same ISI that was our comrade in arms during the 1980's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is well and truly in the dog house. The feeble Zardari government in Islamabad and Pakistan's military face charges they were either incompetent or duplicitous over bin Laden. A tough choice.
India, Pakistan's bitter foe, is crowing; so are the Afghan Communists and drug lords.
Those American yahoos we saw cavorting with joy in the streets at the news of bin Laden's assassination seem totally unaware the almost decade-long US jihad against him cost American taxpayers a staggering $1,283 trillion, and left the US stuck in 2.5 wars.
Interestingly, that $1,283 trillion is roughly what the US currently owes China. Annual interest on the US debt alone runs around $450 billion.
Bin Laden's oft-stated primary goal was to overthrow the Muslim world's western-backed dictatorships and drive the US from the region. He vowed to do so back in the 1990's by bankrupting and "bleeding" the US. Thanks to a lot of help from Wall Street's flim-flam financers, that goal is well on its way.
Washington's triumph was quickly undermined by its shifting claims over the rubout of the unarmed bin Laden, and by the dumping of his body in the sea, a form of cadaverous disposal much favored by the New Jersey mob. The attempt to posthumously humiliate the retired revolutionary by airing pathetic home videos of him backfired, arousing more sympathy than scorn outside North America.
Now, the US says it wants to interrogate bin Laden's wives, who are in Pakistani custody. If information about bin Laden is wanted, why didn't the US grab the unarmed bin Laden and whisk him away for thorough interrogation? After which, he should have been sent for trial at the UN International Criminal Court in the Hague, as was mass murderer, Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen?
Still, it's hard to believe Pakistan didn't know the world's most wanted man was living in quiet retirement a short stroll from its military academy. CIA certainly found out.
The failure of Pakistan's air defenses to detect low-flying US helicopters in the hilly terrain raised two key questions: did Pakistan's military finally give the US a green light to go after bin Laden? If so, how much did this "laissez-passer" cost?
More important, could the US or India stage a similar lightening air assault to destroy Pakistan's nuclear arsenal? Though these weapons are dispersed, they look vulnerable after last week's daring US raid using new stealth helicopters optimized for nape of the earth missions.
Washington claims it found bin Laden by following one of his couriers. But some of my sources say that bin Laden's compound was actually located by Afghan intelligence, which remains dominated by Tajik agents of the old Communist KHAD intelligence service, an arm of the Soviet KGB. Bin Laden, who killed the Tajik's hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a covert Soviet ally, was their number one target for revenge.
As a long-time ISI watcher who received briefings by its director generals on my every visit to Pakistan until recent years, let me suggest another angle to this murky business.
In late 2001-2002, according to then president Pervez Musharraf, the US threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" unless he bowed to a US ultimatum: hand over to the US key air bases and air space, port access, provide 120,000 troops for US use, put ISI under American control and attack Taliban, Pakistan's anti-Communist proxy in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's ISI and its military were purged of senior officers that CIA and the Pentagon deemed too Islamic or unresponsive to US demands. ISI became in part an extension of CIA. Most Pakistanis think their nation was virtually occupied by the US after 9/11, and remains so today.
However, a few independent deep cover units of ISI remained, notably those that had long run the secret anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. I first became aware of these units as the first western journalist to be briefed on the secret war by then ISI chief, Akhtar Abdur Rahman.
One of these deep cover ISI units may have been keeping the retired Osama on ice, pending a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Though under heavy US influence, ISI's priority was to defend Pakistan's strategic interests, not those of the United States.
Bin Laden would have been a useful tool to rally Pashtun tribes, among whom he is venerated as a war hero, and lead the fight against Afghanistan's entrenched Tajik and Uzbek Communists who, ironically, are today America's allies.
If that was the plan, it went horribly wrong. Now Washington is calling for Pakistan's head — and probably new purges at ISI. Islamabad's government and armed forces have become totally dependant on billions in US aid. Over the next five years, the US has promised Pakistan $7.5 billion — if it behaves.
The US Congress is threatening to end this bonanza. However, the US can't wage war in Afghanistan without Pakistan's cooperation, and Pakistan knows it. So most of the American money will keep flowing.
The unhappy US-Pakistani shotgun marriage will continue, at least for a while longer. Meanwhile, Pakistan has become a hate factory, churning out flaming anti-Americans and assorted violent jihadists.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.