Bizarre details aside – that Osama bin Laden wore a cowboy hat to evade detection from U.S. satellites while walking in his compound and that he narrowly escaped capture when his car was pulled over for speeding – the real force of the Abbottabad commission report is in its blunt critique of the Pakistani government and military establishment.
The investigation, which was commissioned by the previous Pakistani government and completed more than six months ago, is scathing in its criticism of how the world’s most-wanted fugitive was able to evade detection for nine years in Pakistan.
On Tuesday morning – just 12 hours after the leaked 337-page report was published online by Al Jazeera English – Pakistani news organizations and TV channels focused on allegations of ineptitude.
Ordinary Pakistanis, who have long-complained about incompetence within government and the military, will find the report by retired Pakistani judge Javed Iqbal unusually candid.
“It’s breathtakingly depressing,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, political columnist and former foreign policy adviser to the foreign minister in the previous government.
“The report in and of itself is a great crystallization of all the things not working in Pakistan,” added Mr. Zaidi, referring to Pakistan’s intelligence gathering, the police and justice system and the absence of a coherent counter-terrorism strategy.
The report talks about “collective failures” and “gross incompetence” of politicians and security agencies that allowed the Al Qaeda leader to live in Pakistan after escaping Afghanistan.
“How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors…over a period of nearly six years beggars belief,” reads an excerpt of the report, referring to the Abbottabad compound where Bin Laden stayed before a U.S.-led operation resulted in his killing.
The report also described the U.S. operation as an “act of war” and says the U.S. behaved like a “criminal thug.”
But, as the report continues, the country would have been spared the humiliation and embarrassment of the U.S.-led operation in Pakistan had government, police and military officers done their job.
“It is a glaring testimony to the collective incompetence and negligence, at the very least, of the security and intelligence community in the Abbottabad area,” read another section of the report.
On Tuesday, there was no official reaction from the new civilian government, which took over last month. The Pakistan army was still formulating a response.
A key question for Pakistan’s establishment will be who leaked the report – which had not yet been officially released.
Pakistani political parties, including the ruling party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, are set to meet on Friday for an all-party gathering to reach a consensus on a counter-terrorism strategy.
Political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi is skeptical that any meaningful reforms will emerge from the Abbottabad report. But he thinks the report will have a positive impact because it makes very plain to ordinary Pakistanis that, in fact, Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan for nine years and that a U.S.-led mission resulted in his death in Pakistan.
“This debunks a bunch of conspiracy theories about [Bin Laden],” said Mr. Zaidi.
Here are some of the other memorable report details to have emerged from 200 sources and interviews, including surviving family members of the Bin Laden family:
Concerned about U.S. satellite surveillance, Osama bin Laden wore a cowboy hat during walks in his compound.
A clean-shaven Bin Laden was a passenger in a car travelling in Swat Valley when police pulled over the car for speeding. One of Bin Laden’s aides was able to settle the matter and, once again, the fugitive escaped.
One of Bin Laden’s surviving wives told the commandant of the nearby Pakistan Military Academy – the country’s version West Point – who arrived at the compound after U.S. forces had left: “Now you come, when everything over!”
The head of Pakistan army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is set to retire later this year, ordered that the U.S. helicopters be shot down. But by then, the Blackhawk helicopters had already returned to Afghanistan.
While there are gaps in Bin Laden’s exact locations during his time in Pakistan, the report states that he lived in Pakistan’s tribal agencies, Peshawar, Swat, Haripur and finally Abbottabad – and that when he arrived in Swat, he was accompanied by a driver and an unidentified man “wearing police uniform.”
The report also delivers a sharp criticism against the country’s intelligence agency – long believed by Western capitals to have been helping Bin Laden – stating that the Pakistani intelligence community should have been able to find and infiltrate Bin Laden’s network while he was in Pakistan.
“Although the possibility of some degree of connivance inside or outside the government cannot be entirely discounted, no individual can be identified as guilty of connivance,” said the report.