Osama Bin Laden Death: How Was Osama Able to Live Under Pakistan's Paw for Six Years?

What a difference a year doesn’t make. In the 12 months since a U.S. Navy SEAL team stormed a modest compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, questions as to how the world’s most wanted terrorist was able to live for six years in the heart of one of the country’s most popular vacation towns, seemingly undisturbed, remain unanswered.

The U.S. has a right to a thorough and honest explanation from Islamabad, which it has never received, and given the current state of relations between the two which further soured after bin Laden’s death, it is unlikely that any satisfactory explanation is forthcoming. It is bad enough that U.S. officials suspect the Pakistani security services of harboring bin Laden. It was almost worse when Pakistani officials, particularly among the military, cried foul and called the raid a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

The circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s death perversely “said” what so many in both the U.S. and Pakistan were thinking: This relationship was always a marriage of convenience. And frankly, it was never a good marriage to begin with, or a particularly convenient one. That reality has never been more apparent than over the course of the past year.

If the bin Laden raid raised American eyebrows over Pakistan’s true allegiance, then the continuation of U.S. drone strikes has understandably made the Pakistani leadership less than accommodating. The unpleasantness surrounding the investigation of the tragic accidental deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers when U.S. helicopters opened fire along the Afghan border back in December has further poisoned attempts at diplomatic normalization.

The Pakistani Parliament’s recent list of demands to the U.S., including the cessation of all C.I.A. drone strikes, came with no subsequent assurance that the Pakistani military is devoted to rooting out deep-seated militancy in its lawless northwest regions. (Though how one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid is in a position to issue “demands” eludes me.)

That said, the latest drone strike over the weekend, the first in over a month, has jeopardized Pakistan’s vital attendance at an upcoming NATO conference in Chicago. No aspect of this relationship over the past year offers any encouragement for a better diplomatic future.

There is little trace now of the Abbottabad compound that bin Laden called home for the last six years of his life. Pakistani authorities demolished the area back in February out of concern that the site would become a shrine for al-Qaeda sympathizers; the symbolic effect of closing the book on a particularly murky chapter in Pakistan’s recent past was not lost, either. Now it’s as if bin Laden was never even there. If only the U.S.-Pakistan relationship could be so easily reset. 

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Laura Hughes

After graduating from Denison University in 2008 with a B.A. in Middle East Studies, Hughes moved to Cairo, Egypt to work for a financial communications agency and to continue her research on the political evolution of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. During her subsequent two-year stay in Egypt, Hughes conducted media and security analysis for US Centcom. She is currently based in London, pursuing her M.A. in Intelligence and International Security in the War Studies department at King's College London. Apart from her interest in global security and terrorism, she's a Washington Capitals fanatic.

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