The Real Osama bin Laden Question: What Changed?

07May11

I’m seeing all these editorials asking how we can consider Pakistan an ally when it allowed Osama bin Laden to live in a place where it surely knew of his presence, just a few blocks from a Pakistani military base.  These editorials seem to be focusing on a relatively trivial matter.  Yes, Pakistan is complicated.  Yes, American relations with various factions in Pakistan can be complex and even contradictory.

But the real question is, what changed?  Given that Pakistan has been harboring this terrorist for some time – that it was surely aware of the creation of bin Laden’s bunker – why did his whereabouts suddenly become not merely known to the Americans, but vulnerable?  Suddenly, the U.S. found out where bin Laden was (assuming some American spies had not been aware of the location for some time).  Suddenly, in any event, U.S. troops were able to fly into that bunker without interference from Pakistani forces.  How come?

I don’t have the answer.  Maybe bin Laden pissed off the wrong person.  Maybe his previous protectors, in Pakistan, were removed or overruled.  Maybe the Pakistani elite decided that the Arab Spring uprisings could come to Pakistan; maybe they felt that someone like bin Laden would not be someone they would want to become influential in that sort of development.  I don’t know.

Quietly shooting bin Laden could have drawn Pakistani attention to the Pakistani citizens who would have authorized and committed that act.  There could have been repercussions against Pakistan, or against those particular individuals.  Instead, it could be more convenient to feed him to the Americans, barking and snarling to get at him.  As so often happens in life, it’s easier to blame it on the dog.

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