ABC News is reporting that "A senior official in Pakistan's civilian government" has admitted that "[e]lements of Pakistan intelligence -- probably rogue or retired -- were involved in aiding, abetting and sheltering the leader of al Qaeda."
This is based on the government's judgment that the number of years bin Laden spent in Abbottabad -- and it now appears in a village outside the city of Haripur -- would have been impossible without help, possibly from someone in the middle tier of ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, who grew up fighting alongside the mujahidin against the Soviets, said the official.This isn't the surprise. The shock is that if the official was authorized to speak on background to the western press. it is a gauntlet thrown down by President Zardari at the feet of the military and the ISI.
According to the official, the military and ISI have been weeding some of them out but many remain.
There have long been sharp divisions between the civilian government and military in Pakistan, and those divisions are now playing out in public.
The Pakistani official also said U.S. officials are demanding the identities of particular ISI agents, in part, as proof the government is truly serious about confronting al Qaeda's supporters on the inside.
In public statements, U.S. officials have balanced these demands with positive words about the U.S.-Pakistani relationship.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon told ABC's Christiane Amanpour today on "This Week" that "questions ... are being raised quite aggressively in Pakistan."
But later, he added, "(The Pakistanis) have been an essential partner of ours in the war against al Qaeda and in our efforts against terrorism. And that really can't be dismissed. This is an important relationship with the United States, so we need to assess this, Christiane, in a cool and calm way."
The unspoken danger is that the military doesn't like being put in a bad light by the civilian government. There have been three military coups in Pakistan in the last few decades, usually preceded by charges of massive corruption in the civilian administration. There is indeed, almost comical corruption - President Zardari's nickname is "Mr. Ten Percent" - given to him because it is rumored that he receives regular payments from contractors - perhaps totaling as much as $1.5 billion. Zardari has a home in the south of France and has been accused of money laundering and receiving kickbacks from virtually every sphere of the Pakistani government.
If the military strikes back by bringing up this sorry record of corruption, Zardari may be in deep trouble. As it is, we are not likely to get the names of any ISI or military officials who helped bin Laden. It would be a huge blow in prestige to the military who rightly claim to be the most respected institution in Pakistan.
The question we should be asking is: How many more al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding with the army's help in Pakistan?