ISLAMABAD — In Pakistan, a government-formed commission’s report has blamed “gross incompetence and negligence” at practically all levels of national security system for failing to detect the presence of Osama bin Laden in the country for years and the covert US raid that eliminated the al-Qaida leader on May 2, 2011.
The so-called Abbottabad Commission was set up shortly after U.S. special forces raided Osama Bin Laden’s hideout deep inside Pakistan.
The four-member commission, headed by a former Supreme Court justice, was assigned to determine circumstances leading to the unilateral US raid and the presence of the world’s most wanted man in the garrison town of Abbottabad for years without being detected.
While the Pakistani government has yet to officially publish findings of the long awaited report, it was leaked to local and foreign news networks late on Monday.
The head of the commission, Javed Iqbal, told local TV channels on Tuesday the report was submitted to the government in January so it could be shared with the public. He dismissed criticism for taking 18 months to complete the inquiry, saying they recorded testimony of more than 200 witnesses and sources including members of Bin Laden’s family, as well as top military and civilian officials.
He says his team also had to closely examine translations of “7,000 documents and a 350-page diary, both written in Arabic” to complete the job. Pakistani authorities had seized the material from Bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad soon after his killing in the American operation.
The 336-page report offers details about life on the run for the al-Qaida leader and evidence of “gross incompetence” at all levels within Pakistani civil and military institutions for failing to detect Bin Laden’s presence in the country.
Mushahid Hussain, who heads Defense Affairs Committee of the Pakistani Senate, says the findings are disturbing.
“Because the report reveals that not only did the intelligence fail to focus on this high-profile person (OBL) in Pakistan territory for a number of years, but also the fact that just before the operation of 2nd of May by the US army there was a CIA station (in Abbottabad), which was also monitoring Bin Laden’s activity, and even that CIA station was off the radar screen from our security system. So I think there was a double jeopardy involved as far as intelligence is concerned,” Hussain said.
Senator Hussain says the commission’s report must lead to an inquiry and internal reforms in Pakistan's security services to prevent future embarrassments.
“Because now the primary focus should not be any blame game or finger pointing. That is not the answer. The answer is to ensure that what has happened does not recur,” he added.
The Bin Laden raid was seen as a major embarrassment for the powerful Pakistani military, and especially for its spy agency, the ISI, which is often accused of having close ties to Afghan Taliban insurgents and al-Qaida militants. But the commission’s report did not conclude that the ISI or any another state security agency was involved in sheltering Bin Laden.
There has long been speculation that al-Qaida’s current chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in Pakistan, and Afghan officials repeatedly allege that fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Omar and his deputies are also living in Pakistan with the support of the ISI -- something Pakistani authorities deny.
The unilateral American raid that killed Bin Laden strained ties between Islamabad and Washington. US officials maintain they did not inform Pakistan because of fears the al-Qaida leader would be tipped off.