The unilateral decision by the US to launch a military operation to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani territory constituted “an act of war”, a Pakistani government investigation has found.
The report of the Abbottabad Commission, which investigated the circumstances around the raid and how the al-Qaeda leader came to live in the country for nine years without apparently being detected, was exclusively released by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit on Monday.
The report of the commission, formed in June 2011 to probe the circumstances around the killing of bin Laden by US forces in a unilateral raid on the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, had earlier been suppressed by the Pakistani government.
The raid illustrated Washington’s “contemptuous disregard of Pakistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the arrogant certainty of […] unmatched military might”, the report concluded in its “Findings” section.
In the same section, the report also details the “comprehensive failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of Bin Laden on its territory for almost a decade”.
The report draws on testimony from more than 200 witnesses, including members of Bin Laden’s family, Pakistan’s then spy chief, senior ministers in the government and officials at every level of the military, bureaucracy and security services.
The commission’s 336-page report is scathing, holding both the government and the military responsible for “gross incompetence” leading to “collective failures” that allowed both Bin Laden to escape detection, and the US to be able to violate Pakistani sovereignty by carrying out an attack on its soil without the knowledge of the military or the government.
It singles out the military for particular criticism on this front, citing an “overall policy bankruptcy” amongst both the political and military leadership, when it came to securing the country’s western border against possible violations of Pakistani territory or airspace.
The commission’s investigators were told by the Pakistani Air Force that low-level radars were on “peacetime deployment”, and hence were not active on the western border with Afghanistan.
It is through this lack of radar coverage, and the fact that the US forces carried out the raid in stealth helicopters, flying fast and low, they were told, that the US SEAL team was able to evade detection.
Pakistani Air Force jets were only scrambled in response to the threat after US forces had already left Pakistani airspace, after having spent approximately three hours in Pakistani territory and airspace.
It concluded that Pakistan’s defence policy was “outdated” and reactive, with major policy documents not having been updated since 2004 (the Defence Policy) and 2007 (the Joint Strategic Directive).
The two documents designate India as being the only country to be considered “hostile” to Pakistan.
“There was no pro-active anticipatory policy or policy planning,” the report says, in detailing how the Pakistani military apparently had no contingency plans in place to respond to a unilateral US raid.
It also noted that such a raid had been alluded to in public statements by senior US officials.
“Is it official or unofficial defence policy not to attempt to defend the country if threatened or even attacked by a military superpower like the US?” the report asks several top military officials, including the chief of the air force and the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, then director general of the ISI, moreover, told the commission that Pakistan had become “too weak” and dependent on Washington to take necessary actions to defend itself against US policies, according to the report.
“We are a very weak state and also a very scared state,” Pasha told the commission.
He said that the case of Bin Laden was one “not so much of specific individual or institutional failure, but [one of] collective and systemic failure”.
Pasha went on to allege that Pakistani society was “deeply penetrated” by US intelligence and other services, quoting a US intelligence officer as having told him: “You are so cheap … we can buy you with a visa, with a visit to the US, even with a dinner … we can buy anyone.”
The report also makes detailed allegations against Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, regarding the procurement of an extensive number of visas, without proper authorisation, for US nationals.
Haqqani denied these charges both to Al Jazeera and to the commission in his written testimony.
The commission also found, based on testimony from officials from the ISI, that Pakistani intelligence had effectively closed the book on the hunt for Bin Laden after the CIA stopped sharing information on his possible whereabouts in 2005.
The ISI was provided with four telephone numbers in 2010 related to the hunt for Bin Laden, but they were not told the significance of the numbers.
The commission concludes that the ISI was “paralyzed by the CIA’s lack of cooperation”, and should have been able to track the al-Qaeda leader on its own territory more effectively.
The report also details “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” in both the violation of sovereignty constituted by Bin Laden’s stay in the country for nine years, and the US raid that killed him in 2011.