Following a decade long international search now referred to as the greatest manhunt in history, Osama bin Laden was discovered in the quaint, picturesque area of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Situated some 60 miles from the country's capital of Islamabad, Abbottabad (named after the British Major James Abbott) is home to more than just luscious hills and flawless scenery, it is also often referred to as the headquarters of the Pakistani army, boasting the esteemed Kakul military academy.
So it begs the question, were authorities aware of bin Laden's presence, did they help conceal him, or did they in fact assist the U.S. in bringing him to justice? The answer is a complicated, perplexing and nuanced one: there is no real answer.
"It's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding," stated President Obama in a rare late-night statement on Sunday. "And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continues to join us in the fight against Al Qaeda and its affiliates."
But in a conference call with senior administration officials following the President's statement, the press was repeatedly informed that no other nation knew of the plan to strike on bin Laden's compound and that only a small group of individuals within the United States were even aware of the plan. On face value, the President's statements and the information from senior administration members may appear conflicting, but upon deeper evaluation, they're actually very clear and precise.
It's no secret that Pakistan has long presented two reactions to the war on terror, CIA predator drone attacks and other U.S. actions. Fearful of retribution at the hands of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremists within their own borders, Pakistani officials have no choice but to be very careful in their declaration of assistance to the U.S. As President Obama himself stated on Sunday, bin Laden was a 'mass murderer of Muslims' and 'al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries' (including Pakistan). Often times tormenting neighborhoods much like a gang would in any city in the U.S., these terrorists force innocent civilians to stay silent on their activities -- aka 'no snitching allowed' -- and as a consequence the innocents are many times, unfortunately, killed in our drone strikes.
As Pakistanis read glaring headlines of these civilian deaths through the years, Pakistani authorities publicly condemn the attacks, but privately, they would never even be able to take place without their cooperation. Providing launching pads and locations for these drones to take off within Pakistan, the army facilitates our attempts at rooting out terrorism. In fact, in the mindset of many Pakistani military officials, the loss of a few casualties at the hands of drone attacks is worth the cost of preventing a terrorist from reeking larger havoc throughout the country and potentially killing hundreds in the future. In other words, the notion of the ends justify the means is in full effect here and 'collateral damage' is just a byproduct of war.
Because of this complicated relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, it's impossible to know precisely how bin Laden was discovered, captured and eventually taken down. But in a nation where terrorism is an unfortunate daily reality, and the loss of life is shrugged off as 'oh these things happen all the time,' Pakistan's future rests more heavily than ever on how we in the U.S. proceed. And in turn, our own future is inexorably linked with Pakistan's stability.
Even though President Obama stressed Pakistan's cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, almost instantaneously, pundits and commentators here began questioning Pakistan's role in the entire situation. And in a country still dealing with CIA contractor Raymond Davis' freedom allegedly via blood money, Pakistanis are wondering if these latest developments will inspire more terrorists and create more hatred against America.
It's important to note that we do not, as yet, have all the facts, and in all likelihood we probably never will. Could bin Laden have been confined to his compound without anyone ever noticing?
In a country where the rich and elite routinely separate themselves from the rest of society in mansions/compounds, and have countless workers available to do any and everything, the possibility isn't that far stretched. Or did someone, somewhere know something and not report it? Or because we have not been notified of how long bin Laden was at this compound, did Pakistanis alert the U.S. and lead us to his hideout once they gathered the intelligence?
At a time when the most wanted man in the world was brought to justice via joint cooperation, according to the President, it's inevitable that people will use the situation to unfortunately further a divide between two nations that are now intricately linked tighter than perhaps ever before.