May 2nd, 2011
09:29 PM ET

What did Pakistan know?

Editor’s Note: This is the third of three posts from Fareed Zakaria on the death of Osama bin Laden. The other posts are Al Qaeda is dead and Vindication of Obama's strategy.  You can follow Fareed on Facebook and Twitter for timely analysis of global events.

Osama bin Laden was not killed in a remote cave in Waziristan.  He was living in a large compound near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, in the city of Abbottabad, which houses a prestigious Pakistani military academy.

It is beyond belief that there could be a compound like bin Laden’s in that location without some elements of the Pakistani military knowing about it.

The house was eight times the size of the surrounding houses. It was newly constructed. And according to a senior Obama administration official, even though the compound was valued at about $1 million, no telephone lines ran to it.

All of this should have attracted the attention of the Pakistani authorities in some way or another. The fact that it didn’t makes it very difficult to believe that there was not some Pakistani knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

From the beginning, the Afghan government argued that top al Qaeda leadership was not in Afghanistan - was not even in Waziristan - but was instead in urban Pakistani cities like Quetta. Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me that Osama bin Laden would be found in a Pakistani city. He turned out to be right.

This raises two points. The first point is on the fundamental issue of whether the Pakistani military has truly decided to cooperate in the war against terrorism, al Qaeda and Islamic extremism or whether it is playing a selective game. I think this is just one more powerful piece of evidence that Pakistan is engaged in a fairly selective kind of cooperation with the United States.

The second point is more broadly that these terrorist networks really rely either on state support or the total absence of a state to thrive. Look at where al Qaeda has been able to remain active. In a world in which governments are pursuing it, where its funds are being tracked, where its people are on visa watch lists, al Qaeda is able to thrive in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and that’s about it.

Why? In Yemen and Somalia you have the absence of the state. The state does not control vast swathes of territory. Al Qaeda can set itself up as long as the local warlord or chieftain is willing to accommodate it.

In the Pakistani case, I am left with the conclusion that there was some level of state support for al Qaeda. It may not have been at the highest levels. It may have been just certain elements of the state. It’s difficult to tell. But the idea that you could have the kind of compound necessary to house bin Laden in the middle of a Pakistani city near a concentration of Pakistani officers suggests that there was some state involvement in protecting bin Laden.

President George W. Bush focused a great deal on the state-sponsored element of terrorism. This focus got a bad name because President Bush ended up fingering the wrong state in Iraq. But the basic point that terrorist networks cannot achieve scale or enduring power without some involvement of a state is fundamentally true.

Without a state sponsor, terrorist networks have much less capacity to acquire weapons of mass destruction, to engage in multinational operations, to fund projects for years on end and, most importantly, to have some kind of a base.

That’s why Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan and paid the Taliban’s bills for so long. He needed a physical base where the local government would be cooperative.

When the local government in Afghanistan became uncooperative, he moved to the place where he found a more receptive political environment. This ironically turned out to just miles from Islamabad.

I invite you to share your thoughts below and to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.


soundoff (653 Responses)
  1. OpinionIndia

    To Pakistanis who bring up Kashmir to deceive the world and hide all blame,here is the truth

    Lets GIVE BALOCHISTANIS a chance for vote to decidde if they wanna continue to be part of Pakistan ( A failed state that discriminated agaInst Bengalis and now Balochis )

    BALOCHISTAN WANTS PLEBISCITE AND FREEDOM FROM PAKISTAN.Pakistan stop discriminating against people of Balochistan where they do not get revenue spent on their development after their mineral wealth is eaten away by Pakistani state.

    FREEDOM FOR BALOCHISTAN.

    May 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  2. OpinionIndia

    ‎"Mark my words. When Osama bin Laden is found, he will be found in a Pakistani city"

    - Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2006 to Fareed Zakaria

    May 12, 2011 at 10:41 am | Reply
  3. OpinionIndia

    To defensive Pakistanis

    we know you sympathize with Pakistans ISI and rogue Army

    If you are so much defensive about Pakistan's role( which is dishonest and worthy of shame) then stop accepting AID from US and return the 20 billion $ aid you have so far received ..:)

    May 12, 2011 at 10:49 am | Reply
  4. OpinionIndia

    Now Pakistanis usually address Indians as "Hindu" and call us extremist, we don't blow up markets like you( your citizens, Pakistanis ) :)

    we don't sail from Karachi to Mumbai and go on a shooting rampage unlike you(Pakistanis) :)

    we are not implicated from the west as Non resident Pakistanis in Mumbai terror plot unlike "Muslim Pakistani " HUSSAIN RANA

    we are not implicated from the west as Non resident Pakistanis in Mumbai terror plot unlike "Muslim Pakistani " david headley ( changed his muslim pakistani name to a western name :) )

    we are not caught plotting the TIME SQUARE BOMB PLOT :)

    WE ARE NOT CAUGHT SHELTERING BINLADEN FOR 5 YEARS :)

    WE ARE NOT SHELTERING MUMBAI ATTACK MASTER MINDS ( ISI CHIEF PASHA), HAFEEZ SAEED

    WE are not giving guest visa to DAWOOD IBRAHIM (Terrorist WANTED BY US and India)

    we are not implicated from the west as Non resident Pakistanis in Danish terror plot

    Extremism is Rampant in PAKISTAN , NOT India which is secular and tolerant

    PAKISTAN SHAME SHAME :)

    GOD What a MENACE this country ( Pakistan ) has become to the WORLD !!! :)

    May 13, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  5. OpinionIndia

    May 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Reply
  6. OpinionIndia

    For Pakistanis who say US should leave the region, here is the response :

    Why should USA leave the region,US would not have come unless Sept 11 happened from the region which included Paki conspirators :) .Before sept 11 , Pakistan was supporting Taliban in Afghanistan :) the only nation on earth ( probably saudis also) .Then after US started bombing Afghanistan , Pakistan had to shamefully airlift 16000 Paki soldiers from Afghanistan who were with the Taliban :)

    You Pakistanis should leave the region or go to another planet.We wish we can catapult you and your people across to another planet :) as we believe in value of human life , we don't wanna harm you :) , but we just don't want you to be on earth :) .

    You can settle in the this neo planet and then fight among yourselves( we know how shias are attacked in your country and there will be no use of your Blasphemy law, we will gladly take your minorities ) as you will have no neighbours..No India or America or Israel :)

    May 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  7. OpinionIndia

    :( :( PAK TERROR :( :( PAK TERROR :( :( PAK TERROR :( :(

    Chief Foreign affairs correspondent of CBS Lara Logan after speaking to "top Intelligence and Military officials in the United States" says that all of them are UNANIMOUS THAT

    IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT PAKISTAN DID NOT KNOW THE LOCATION OF BIN LADEN :) :) :) :)

    IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS HIDING OUT IN THIS CITY WHICH IS CRAWLING WITH RETIRED MILITARY OFFICIALS OR MILITARY CADETS(PAKISTANI) OR ACTIVE MILITARY PERSONNEL ...

    THIS COMPOUND WAS 8 TIMES LARGER THAN ANY OTHER BUILDING IN AREA...IT IS IMPROBABLE THAT PEOPLE LIVING IN THAT CITY ( ABBOTABAD ) , LET ALONE MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT HAD NO IDEA ,NEVER ASKED A QUESTION ABOUT IT, ...

    IF IT CAME TO THE ATTENTION OF US INTELLIGENCE THEN IT CENTAINLY WOULD HAVE COME TO THE ATTENTION OF PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE,THEIR MILITARY BRASS,

    ..MOST OF THE OFFICIALS SAY THAT PAKISTAN HAS BEEN LAUGHING AT THE United States , LAUGHING IN THE FACES OF THE AMERICANS BECAUSE THEY HAVE KNOWN ALL ALONG THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN IS THERE

    AND PAKISTANIS STOOD UP AND SAID THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS NOT IN PAKISTAN .....

    BUT NOT ONLY IS HE IS PAKISTAN ,BUT HE NOW ,TURNS OUT TO BE RIGHT AMONGST THE "MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT" ITSELF

    PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS FOUND "DEEP INSIDE" PAKISTAN


    ..NOT IN THE BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN , NOT IN CAVE

    MOMENT OF TRUTH HAS ARRIVED ...WORLD SHOULD DISMEMBER PAKISTAN , IMPOUND ITS NUCLEAR WEAPONS THEN GO FOR A WAR TO ELIMINATE ALL TERRORISTS HIDING INSIDE PAKISTAN

    AMERICAS GREATEST ENEMY IS NOT AL QAEDA, ITS PAKISTAN :( :( :( :(
    :( :( PAK TERROR :( :( PAK TERROR :( :( PAK TERROR :( :(

    May 17, 2011 at 4:03 am | Reply
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