Christina Lamb

Out of the shadows

Bin Laden’s death has exposed Pakistan’s double game with the West

Bin Laden’s death has exposed Pakistan’s double game with the West

Even those of us who did not believe that Osama bin Laden was producing his videos from a cave in a remote tribal mountain would never have guessed that he was, in fact, living in a ‘Come and Get Me’ three-storey house surrounded by cabbage fields just down the road from Pakistan’s top military academy.

To many in Washington, here was final proof — if any were needed — that its supposed ally has been playing a double game; that, for the past ten years, Pakistan has been playing the role of US ally (and taking more than $18 billion of American aid) while all the time sheltering the Taleban and al-Qa’eda. ‘The game is up,’ a senior Pentagon official told me the day after bin Laden’s killing, admitting he felt ‘a darned idiot’ for being played for so long.

Last year I went for lunch in Abbottabad, bin Laden’s adopted hometown, which nestles in green hills about 90 minutes’ drive from Islamabad. It is one of those pleasant former British military cantonments that in colonial times were known as hill stations. I didn’t notice a large compound behind 12ft-high white walls that never threw out its rubbish and had no phone or internet connection. I did notice, though, that the town was crawling with military. It houses the Pakistan Military Academy, and is a favourite location for retired generals.

Little wonder that John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, says it was ‘inconceivable’ that bin Laden did not have a significant ‘support system’ in Abbottabad. He did not need to say that the only organisation in Pakistan that could have supplied such support to al-Qa’eda is its military intelligence, ISI, an agency that owes much of its capabilities to the CIA which used it to funnel billions of dollars to the Afghan mujahedin in the 1980s.

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