10 Years After US Forces Killed Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan’s Anger Has Not Abated
South Asian country still smarts from commando raid to kill al-Qaida leader that violated its sovereignty
[Islamabad] A decade ago, US Navy SEALS stormed a high-walled residential compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, and shot dead al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The raid, some 32 miles northeast of the capital, Islamabad, was the climax of a 10-year international manhunt for the world’s most-wanted fugitive, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
As he was in life, the details of bin Laden’s death remain a mystery.
No US or Pakistani officials have been willing to reveal the full story of how this operation took place, or how the CIA discovered the whereabouts of the al-Qaida leader. What is known is that Pakistan that suffered the worst consequences of the operation.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was in the opposition when the raid took place, told Fox News during his first US tour in 2019 that he “never felt more embarrassed than he was on May 2, 2011, when US special forces took bin Laden out without informing Pakistan.”
Khan also claimed during the interview that “our premier spy agency ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) helped the US to find and kill bin Laden.”
Twenty days after the Abbottabad raid, local law enforcement took a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, into custody. Afridi allegedly ran a fake vaccine program that helped the CIA locate bin Laden’s secret compound.
Afridi was initially accused of treason, but was ultimately sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment for allegedly funding Lashkar-e-Islam, a banned militant group that is no longer active. His sentence was reduced to 23 years on appeal.
The Media Line spoke with leading defense and security analysts about bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, which harmed the country’s international reputation.
Senator Abdul Qayyum is a retired lieutenant general who served as military secretary to two prime ministers, and is a former member of the Pakistan-US parliamentary group.
“Pakistan and its soil were used by the US as a base camp during the Cold War era. However, after the Soviet Union’s defeat, Pakistan was not only left alone to face the wrath of so-called ‘mujahedeen,’ but also US sanctions were slammed on Pakistan,” the Islamabad-based Qayyum told The Media Line. Mujahedeen is an Arabic term referring to Islamic holy warriors.
“After 9/11, Pakistan once again stood as a frontline US ally to rid the region of terrorism but, unfortunately, in Abbottabad the United States again betrayed us,” Qayyum said.
“The Osama bin Laden operation episode, conducted without the consent of a sovereign nation, was like a close friend stabbing you in the back,” he added.
“The aforementioned operation did not harm Pakistan’s reputation but it surely proved that the world’s big powers have no respect for the United Nations Charter or any international law,” Qayyum said. “The great powers are bound by no law; they can invade any country without prior permission, disregarding its freedom and sovereignty.”
Pakistan was never aligned with al-Qaida, Qayyum also said, adding that: “In fact, we have been victims of al-Qaida and its associated atrocities and lost hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens.”
Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a veteran Islamabad-based security analyst and a former Pakistan defense secretary and lieutenant general, told The Media Line that the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad “was a huge embarrassment for the intelligence agencies for failing to detect Osama bin Laden, but there was no connivance; anyhow it is difficult to be certain.”
“We differentiate between Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terror groups, and those Afghans who in their understanding are fighting for their freedom against [Western] occupation forces, and all such terror groups are banned in Pakistan,” Lodhi said.
Haris Nawaz, a Karachi-based defense analyst and retired brigadier general, told The Media Line that “even after a decade, Pakistani officials and the Pakistani military strongly believe that bin Laden was a terrorist who caused tremendous damage to the good name of Islam and caused the Western world to suffer from Islamophobia.”
Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, “definitely raised a few questions, but Pakistani officials and Army Command successfully managed to convince the US administration that it was just a coincidence of which they had no knowledge,” he said.
“After the  US-led invasion of Afghanistan, terrorism in Pakistan increased exponentially and we lost thousands of civilians and armed forces personnel. However, a battle-hardened Pakistan armed forces with total professionalism has successfully eliminated terrorism from the country,” Nawaz said.
Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based South Asia expert and a senior associate at the Wilson Center, told The Media Line that “for Pakistan, the bin Laden raid did great damage to its global image already tarnished by its [alleged] associations with terrorism.”
“The reality that bin Laden had lived so close to the Pakistan Military Academy, and for so long, was something for which the world still has not forgiven Pakistan,” he noted. Bin Laden is estimated to have been in that location for five years before he was killed by US forces.
“It is a fact that Pakistan has sought to distance itself from the terror groups in more recent years, especially through successful operations against the Pakistani Taliban organization,” Kugelman continued. “In Washington and other key capitals, there is still considerable doubt that Pakistan is taking irreversible steps against terror groups.”
Adil Raja, a Rawalpindi-based geostrategic analyst and former NATO coordinator, told The Media Line that “before talking about Osama bin Laden, we should bear in mind how Pakistan got involved with the business of [self-proclaimed] international ideological mercenaries who became al-Qaida.”
“It was the USA which pushed Pakistan into this quagmire during its Cold War against communism,” he said, referring to the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War during which the CIA reportedly channeled funds through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the Afghan Mujahedeen. “History bears witness to the fact that the United States used Pakistan as a scapegoat during the Cold War,” he added.
“Pakistan played a pivotal role in winning the Cold War for the US-led capitalist camp. However, soon after winning the war, the US packed its bags and ran away, leaving Pakistan to deal with the collateral damage including a rise in religious extremism,” Raja continued. “Abandoning Pakistan was a big mistake by the US policymakers and ultimately the US faced its dire consequences on 9/11.”
“Pakistan maintained its relationship with the Afghan Taliban at a heavy cost and, today, the United States is reaping the benefits of Pakistan’s close contacts with the Afghan Taliban. We can say that the same relationship became the deliverance of the US, which sought a face-saving withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Raja said. “The United States now values Pakistan’s role in bringing peace to Afghanistan and the safe withdrawal of US forces as well.”
He added: “No doubt the bin Laden episode was an embarrassing situation for Pakistan, but what happened on 9/11, when several US planes were hijacked from US airports and flown into buildings including the Pentagon, didn’t that represent the complete failure of the CIA, the world’s largest intelligence agency?”
Farzana Shah is a Peshawar, Pakistan-based expert on Pakistan-Afghan militant groups and editor of The Global Conflict Watch, a defense and strategic affairs magazine.
Shah told The Media Line that “the Abbottabad operation against Osama Bin Laden has since been used as part of a protracted propaganda campaign to malign Pakistan, while very few details are known about what happened on the ground.”
She pointed out that in President Barack Obama’s speech after the killing, he said that the US Navy SEAL operation was a success because of the cooperation of the Pakistan spy agency ISI.
“Pakistan, however, kept mum, keeping a low profile, perhaps due to some tactical reason, that is possible backlash from al-Qaida, as the country was already witnessing deadly bombings by terrorists,” Shah said.
“Pakistan’s official stance on al-Qaida and its associated terror groups has been very clear; al-Qaida and its associates were officially declared terrorists and eventually eliminated with armed forces’ strikes,” she said.
“Around 100 top-level al-Qaida leaders/operators were killed or arrested by state intelligence, with or without the support of the CIA, so there is no question of cozying up to al-Qaida,” Shah added.
Rahim Ullah Adil, an English-language lecturer based in Afghanistan’s Khost Province, said that “Osama bin Laden was a mysterious character created by those who not only wanted to humiliate Muslims across the world but also wanted to capture the mineral-rich soil of Afghanistan.”
“To fulfill their ambitions, the invaders killed millions of innocent Afghan people and children, but after fighting and bombing for at least two decades, the invaders are now looking for a face-saving exit,” Adil said, referring to the US-led coalition formed to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and to oust the Taliban.
US President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that all US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11. The withdrawal of troops, as well as contractors and US government workers, was said to have begun, according to reports on Thursday.
“Osama bin Laden did not exist, and the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad was a false flag operation, which was conducted by the US agencies just to justify their presence in the region,” he claimed.
“After killing millions of innocent people, how can Americans say that the war is over? Only the US war in Afghanistan is over, but there is still a war between the Afghans. The US created warlords and it will continue for decades,” Adil said.