Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says there is no evidence that any Pakistani government official knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts prior to his death last May. Speaking to Peter Mansbridge with CBC Television, Sec. Panetta said none of the material collected in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad has suggested any official Pakistani support.
MR. MANSBRIDGE: Now you mention how – you took a lot of material out of that compound and you’ve now had almost a year to go through it all. Have you been able to determine, in what you’ve seen, any direct connection with Pakistan for his ability to live and operate within a stone’s throw of Pakistan’s – one of its most important military installations?
SEC. PANETTA: I have not. And you know, there’s been a lot of material. They’ve gone through a lot of material. We haven’t had access to, obviously, all of the analysis that’s been done, but I have not heard any kind of evidence that involved a direct connection to the Pakistanis. Obviously the concern has always been how could a compound like this, how could bin Laden be in an area where there were military establishments, where we could see the military operating and not have them know.
MR. MANSBRIDGE: And how could it? How could it operate there without their knowledge?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, these situations sometimes, you know, the leadership within Pakistan [sic] is obviously not aware of certain things and yet people lower down in the military establishment find it very well, they’ve been aware of it. But bottom line is that we have not had evidence that provides that direct link.
Sec. Panetta is not the first US official to come to this conclusion. Last fall, former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Robert Grenier, told Express News that there is no evidence Pakistani officials had any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
This does not, however, mean that Osama bin Laden had no support network in Pakistan. This week, the US government announced a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba which is suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. And the US is not the only country that wants Hafiz Saeed. Pakistan’s own government has arrested Hafiz Saeed in the past, only to see their attempts to bring him to justice thwarted by the country’s Supreme Court who ordered the militant leader freed.
While there is no evidence that Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taibi militant group facilitated bin Laden’s living in Pakistan, the way that militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed play “cat and mouse” games with Pakistani law enforcement suggests that unofficial support networks for militant extremists do exist and are hard to penetrate. If Pakistan’s different militant groups are operating synergistically, it could make connections between militant leaders like Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Saeed difficult to substantiate.
The US and Pakistan have a shared goal in ending the scourge of terrorism and bringing militant leaders to justice. Successfully ending militant violence requires cooperation between both countries. That begins with recognizing who are friends are.