In an interview with President Obama on Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft asked:
Right now, it certainly...the location of the compound just raises all sorts of questions. Do you believe people in the Pakistani government, Pakistani intelligence agencies knew that bin Laden was living there?
President Obama answered (emphasis added):
We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was. We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.
And we've already communicated to them, and they have indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks bin Laden might have had. But these are questions that we're not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event.
The president’s comments are hardly surprising. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA director Leon Panetta have made similar comments. Quite obviously, the Obama administration’s suspicions raise troubling questions about the extent of Osama bin Laden’s support inside Pakistan.
Their comments also call to mind the Bush administration’s ultimatums to Pakistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Americans’ seven demands have been detailed in a number of places. Bob Woodward presents them in his book, Bush at War. The demands were relayed to senior Pakistani officials by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
The first one read (emphasis in original): “Stop al Qaeda operatives at your border, intercept arms shipments through Pakistan and end ALL logistical support for bin Laden.”
Think about that demand for a moment. The only way the U.S. could seriously demand that Pakistan “end ALL logistical support for bin Laden” is if Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment was indeed providing it. This was indeed the case and tracks with a number of sources, including the 9/11 Commission’s final report. (One Clinton administration is quoted as saying that the Pakistani intelligence service is “in bed” with bin Laden and al Qaeda.)
Despite the Bush administration’s demand, however, nearly ten years later we have another American president saying that we are still not sure “whether there might have been some people inside of [the Pakistani] government” who helped hide bin Laden. Such is the complicated state of affairs.
Returning to the Bush administration’s seven demands we find a mixed record. Demands 2-4 involved various aspects of military and intelligence cooperation as the U.S. displaced the Taliban’s and al Qaeda’s hold on Afghanistan. The Pakistanis certainly provided much of this assistance and also helped hunt down al Qaeda terrorists who relocated to Pakistan’s dense cities. The fifth demand was to “curb all domestic expressions of support for terrorism against the [United States], its friends and allies.” Woodward writes, “Powell and Armitage knew that was something they couldn’t even do in the United States.”
This is how Woodward paraphrases the sixth demand: “Cut of all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and stop Pakistani volunteers from going into Afghanistan to join the Taliban.” Volunteers still made their way from Pakistan into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces. The shipments were curtailed, but overall support for the Taliban did not cease.
Which brings us to the seventh demand – the one Woodward says “Powell thought would trip up the Pakistanis or cause Musharraf to balk.” Remember that this was delivered shortly after the 9/11 attacks, before everyone was 100 percent sure al Qaeda was responsible. Woodward quotes the seventh demand as (emphasis added):
Should the evidence strongly implicate Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan and should Afghanistan and the Taliban continue to harbor him and this network, Pakistan will break diplomatic relations with the Taliban government, end support for the Taliban and assist us in the aforementioned ways to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
Despite former president Pervez Musharraf’s pledge to comply with all seven demands, Pakistan did not break from the Taliban. Instead, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment allowed the Taliban to regroup on the Pakistani side of the border. And given recent events, it is clear that American officials are concerned that some within the Pakistani government never really did help us “destroy Osama bin Laden.” Quite the opposite, they may have helped hide him.
Undoubtedly, the Pakistani government provided crucial assistance to the American government in the aftermath of 9/11. Woodward says that Powell viewed the Bush administration’s demands as “a pitcher’s brushback pitch to a particularly dangerous batter – high, fast and hard to the head.”
Some in the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment may have decided to crowd the plate regardless.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.