By David Ignatius
WASHINGTON – Let’s see if we’ve got the numbers straight: Osama bin Laden lived in five houses in Pakistan, fathered four children there, kept three wives who took dictation for his rambling directives to his terror network, had two children born in public hospitals – and through it all, the Pakistani government did not know one single thing about his whereabouts?
Can this possibly be true? I suppose that if U.S. intelligence officials could fail to connect the dots about the 9/11 plot, then perhaps Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate could be equally incompetent. And U.S. officials, with the cautious tone of witnesses who hope they won’t have to testify at the trial, keep repeating that they haven’t found the “ smoking gun” that would confirm official Pakistani knowledge about the al-Qaida chief hiding in Abbottabad.
But this isn’t a question for Americans, really. It’s a matter for Pakistani officials. They can tear down bin Laden’s compound – as Pakistani bulldozers did recently in a cleansing maneuver that reminded me of Lady Macbeth’s famous line, “ Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” But they can’t wish away questions about the jihadist network that surrounded bin Laden and his accomplices during their nearly decade-long sojourn in the country. Here are some questions Pakistanis (with American acquiescence) have been ducking too long:
• How did bin Laden settle in Abbottabad? His movements are described by his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, in an Islamabad police report. She says that “everything was arranged by” two men she called “Ibrahim” and “Abrar” who shared their safe houses in Swat Valley, Haripur and finally Abbottabad.
What did the Pakistani authorities know about these Pashtun brothers?
The Associated Press reported that, according to a relative of the house’s owner, “two months ago, several ISI agents took all the records of the house and its tenants.” The same thing seems to have happened with the property records for the Abbottabad compound. What do these documents show? The ISI should explain.
• What role was played by Brig. Ijaz Shah? According to comments by Gen. Ziauddin Butt, a former ISI chief, Shah arranged the al-Qaida leader’s 2005 move to Abbottabad. At the time, Shah, a retired ISI officer, was running another spy agency, the Intelligence Bureau, for his patron, President Pervez Musharraf.
Shah’s name had surfaced in February 2002 as the alleged handler of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who claimed a role in kidnapping Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. It turned out that Pearl had been handed to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the al-Qaida mastermind, who beheaded him.
• And where was the notorious KSM hiding out when he was captured in March 2003?
• How about Abu Zubaida, the al-Qaida operative captured in Pakistan in March 2002?
• What about the Pakistani sojourn of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian al-Qaida operative involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa? And what about Ramzi Binalshibh, a facilitator of the 9/11 attacks who was captured in September 2002 in Karachi. How did he make his way undetected to Pakistan’s commercial capital?
Perhaps the answers to these questions will show the ISI in a favorable light, providing helpful intelligence to the CIA. Perhaps they will tell a darker story of concealment and complicity. Either way, it’s time for some answers.
David Ignatius’ email address is davidignatius@wash post.com. He writes for The Washington Post Writers Group.