Friday, May 6, 2011

More Osama!

I haven’t been writing much recently, and had decided to stay particularly away from the whole Osama saga because I think I’m not educated or informed enough to present anything solid or insightful. Three days of going through articles on the internet have, however, confirmed that this is hardly a reason to stop. So, once more into the fray!

I am somewhat handicapped by my lack of knowledge though, but I shall use my ignorance to complete this entry. To me, the whole Osama episode has given rise to a plethora of questions, and with few conclusions. So, today, I shall list all these questions, and hopefully tick them off one by one in the coming days as more news is forthcoming.

So let’s start with the big one. Did the US really find and kill Osama bin Laden in a compound a kilometre from Kakul? Though this question is being raised in Pakistani conversations and on conspiracy theory websites, the mainstream media seems to have decided that the US is telling the truth. The US government, on the other hand, is not making much of an effort to win over naysayers. The SEALs apparently did DNA tests and facial recognition that satisfied them, but beyond that there is little solid evidence they can present to a third party. Obama has also refused to present photographs. Again, though photographs can be doctored and would probably still have critics, the fact that the US administration is in no mood to share does present an air of reluctance to confirm their achievement. O yes, and they decided to give Osama a burial at sea within hours, because apparently Islam demands that the burial be quickly dealt with. And the US is, of course, famous for its gracious treatment of enemy combatants.

So, essentially, we’re supposed to just take the US government at their word. If there was a list of bodies that have a history of unimpeachable honesty, the US government would not really make it.

According to Obama, he’s dead, we won’t see him again. Fair enough, except that had he died 6 years ago, we still wouldn’t see him walking around. In fact, when was the last time we did see him? That the Americans are expecting their word to be taken as gospel truth is almost cute.

On the other hand, it seems everyone (the mainstream media, the various first world governments, and even our very own government and establishment) is willing to do just that. The most suspicious of these is of course our army. Why, after years of claiming that Osama bin Laden was not in Pakistan, and with an in-depth knowledge of games of deception, didn’t our government, or any other organisation present doubts over the US claim? Did the SEALs hang around and show them the body and the test results? Perhaps they did. I haven’t come across any such news though. So I guess that’s another question, what exactly happened when the operation ended? Did the Americans hand over things to the Pakistanis and leave, or were they long gone before the Pakistani’s turned up? According to the Express Tribune account (which seems to be the Pakistani account as well), by the time Pakistani forces got into the act, the SEALs were well on their way home.

There is some evidence left to be verified though, isn’t there? What about the dead son’s body, and the twelve year old daughter, both of whom are supposedly in Pakistani custody? Can we at least do our own DNA tests on them to confirm that they are in fact OBL’s offspring?

If we are to combine two facts, that Pakistanis had no contact with the Americans during the operation, and still, without any evidence presented to them, found American claims incontrovertible, does this mean they sort of knew that this was on the cards? Does it mean that all their intelligence that seemed to suggest that Osama bin Laden was either dead or far far away was not all that solid, and they did in fact suspect that bin Laden was hanging around one military academy or another in Pakistan? Or (for love of conspiracy theories) is it just possible that they figured they could shout themselves hoarse and no-one would take their word over the US, and decided to just go along with the story presented to them?

Moving on now to the question of Pakistani involvement: did our forces have any idea there was a military operation going on a kilometre from Kakul? Did they have any idea that American helicopters had violated their airspace and were carrying out a forty-minute operation in the cantonment-heavy city of Abottabad? Assuming American stealth technology really did manage to dupe our radars (which they probably are capable of doing), was there no human intelligence at all? What about Sohaib Athar, who was tweeting the whole operation from his home? Apparently he heard the helicopters at 1 AM, some time before he reported a blast. Did nobody else notice this helicopter? Or is our response time a mere 40 minutes?

On the other hand, there are suggestions that the army was actually in on it. The explanation here is that the Army would fear backlash from bin Laden’s sympathisers and is therefore trying to play down its role. But seriously, is our army really that afraid? And is this alternative version of events really much better? Would they rather appear completely incompetent and/or duplicitous? How long would they think it would take for people around the world to join the dots and come out condemning them? Did they think the Pakistani public would be pleased to hear about their performance in being completely clueless as to when our security is breached? This version seems highly implausible. Especially since the army had no response for two days after the incident. The lack of a story, even a false one, seems to indicate that our military was indeed caught with its trousers down.

Or is there another possibility? Is it possible that we actually have no modus operandi for such a situation? So a couple of American helicopters violated our airspace and headed towards Abottabad, what were we to do? Shoot them down? This is the same military that has, for all its condemnation, never dared to shoot down an American drone. Would it have been practical for it to engage American helicopters? Was it perhaps easier to look the other way while the Americans went about their business?

Then of course, the question that everyone’s been asking. Did they know bin Laden was lying a stone’s throw away? As stated earlier, it would explain their reluctance to refute US claims. And well, it just seems ridiculously odd that the US figured this out, based on information supposedly provided by the ISI, and yet the ISI, sitting within spitting distance of bin Laden didn’t manage to put things together. Were they really this incompetent? Were they not really interested in capturing the ailing Al-Qaeda chief and therefore not really looking? Or were they looking for the opportune moment to trade bin Laden? Or maybe, they actually were giving him sanctuary. Maybe he was somebody’s BFF.

Here’s another story I base on absolutely nothing: Maybe the CIA knew bin Laden was in ISI custody in Abottabad and were content to have him safely tucked away for a rainy day. And maybe the ISI knew that the CIA knew and were quite happy to oblige at their convenience. But in the recently deteriorating relationship between the two agencies, the CIA decided to up the ante by going it alone and showing the Pakistani military who was boss.

If you decide to ignore my brilliant story, here’s the low-fat version, based again on the two agencies deteriorating relationship. It’s been no secret that all has not been well in the house that the CIA and ISI built. There was Raymond Davis, there were the growing protests against drone attacks, demands that CIA reduce its personnel in Pakistan and most recently there was the ‘leak’ in the papers that the CIA considered the ISI to be a terrorist agency. So, at least at the face of it, they were having a bit of a tiff.

What better way to justify the presence of operatives in Pakistan, and bring the ISI in line than to prove they are incapable of or unwilling to deal with problems themselves?

I won’t go into detailed questions about the legality of the operation and the actual inaccuracies between the various versions of events presented by the US. We should all know explanations for these off by heart by now. The varying accounts are of course because of the fog of war - “It all happened so fast”. Never having been in a combat situation I can’t comment on whether this is a justified response. One would think that they would get their story straight before presenting it, what with all the recording equipment and whatnot. I guess Obama’s approval rating couldn’t hold out a few more days. And of course, it’s all legal. When has the US government ever acted illegally? And shame on you for nitpicking when the whole world is celebrating the death of our generations bogeyman (not that the world’s safer or anything, but still, why do you have to be such a downer?).

Just out of curiosity though, did they confirm bin Laden’s identity before or after they shot him? Hypothetically speaking, what would they have done if, after shooting him, they do the DNA test and it turns out to be someone else? (If I was in that situation, I’d just get rid of the body as soon as possible… not that I’m implying anything!)

I might return with more questions if they arise, but for now, I’ll leave with a gem of a quote that will answer any niggling doubts you may still have on the legality of the operation (you nitpicker!):

"Frankly, I don't know," McDonough continued. "I've seen differing accounts as we gather more information. I don't know for certain whether bin Laden was armed or not. But I do know that our tremendous ... assault team that made that raid that day made exactly the right decision in each case, as far as I'm concerned."

PS. Before I got carried away, the idea was that I could write up all the questions and then draw the various conclusions from each one. And when I say draw, I mean literally draw, like a graph. Maybe I'll do that now...