The answers surrounding the conundrum of not just where, but who continues to hide senior Al Qaeda members more than likely reside in a different Pakistani border region, the Indian border; essentially Kashmir. The relationship of militant groups such as Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and a host of other militant groups which operate in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (PoK), have a long standing history of cooperation and training dating back to the 1980’s. Beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan where PoK organizations continue to provide sanctuary, transportation and manpower from their base camps in the basically unmonitored border region. Due to longstanding relations with the Pakistani authority who views these groups as an ally against the Indian threat, if not an outright colleague who continues to receive funding to carry on a “bleed India” campaign, military assistance, unfettered movement and safe passage in the region continues to this day. The odd questions is, why has this continued since 2002, and why are the Pakistani’s not the only regional player against any US presence in the region?
Due to growing economic ties with India, and the continued “security” relationship with Pakistan, the USG finds itself in a precarious situation on the sub-continent. India and Pakistan have insisted the US refrain from conducting military and intelligence operations in the Kashmir region. Surprisingly, India of all countries, vehemently protested when President Obama initially included Kashmir in the portfolio of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrook. Unfortunately, the US was forced to continue the focus on the Northern Territories and SWAT, and take a hands-off approach in PoK, despite most intelligence and media reports of the PoK based groups and Al-Qaeda relationship. If you were Al Qaeda, who have close ties with PoK based groups spanning over two decades, why not seek sanctuary in the one area US forces are continually prevented from pursuing your whereabouts?
The main rub on the whole situation rests in the continued monetary, military and intelligence assistance the PoK militants receive from both the ISI and Pakistani military. This is not to assume that the relationship between the militant organizations and the Pakistani authorities are conducted at the senior level. A fundamental reason why very little will be found in any investigation with regards to who knew Osama bin Laden was in Abattobad, is the simple fact they did not know. ISI and military personnel, who sustain this close relationship, view their relationship with the militants more important to Pakistan than the US-Pakistan relationship due to the conflict with India. Moreover, those individuals more than likely did not know that the person staying in the house was Osama Bin Laden, but a special “Guest” of the militant hiding him out, and asked his government insiders to just “not ask questions” with regards to the identity of the “Guest.” Then again, it would be insulting if they did…
In 2008, I spent a month in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, and more importantly time with All Parties Hurryiet Conference Senior Leader Syed Ali Geelani. He spoke in detail of the training camps during the 1980’s in Pakistan, where young Kashmiri fighters would cross into Pakistan and receive training by the ISI, and the groups active in Afghanistan. Additionally, he acknowledged that presently focus has gone from fighting India, to fighting Jihad started by the United States with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Geelani acknowledged that some funding from the military and intelligence services has seen an annual decrease, however the logistical and emotional support remained, especially with regards to and from Afghanistan. This maintains the quid pro quo relationship between Al Qaeda and the PoK based organizations. Groups such as LeT and JeM provide sanctuary and inside intelligence via their government connections. In return, Al Qaeda provides financial assistance via fundraising avenues and training. Examples of the training signatures are the Mumbai attacks and the London bombings, both of which were extremely well coordinated and affective. Now, skeptics might point to Mumbai and assume that since it was LeT that it does not suggest an Al Qaeda element, until you mention the Jewish Center that was also a target. Not a common calling card for an organization presumably hitting India due to injustices taking place inside IoK. Once again, everyone knows where the plans were hatched, unfortunately India and Pakistan respectively want to keep everything related to the Kashmir region in house, regardless of the detriment it brings to their own internal security, let alone putting the rest of the world at risk.
India and Pakistan remain mired in a 60 year Cold War to their own detriment both in economics and security. Both sides vehemently are against third party intervention due to the nature of activities both India and Pakistan have forced the people of Kashmir to endure. More importantly, the majority of annual US military monetary appropriations find their way to funding operations on the border with India rather than the SWAT Valley and Northern territories, which from Pakistan’s point of view does not serve their “long-term interests.” However, in this case, the Pakistani relationship with militancy on the Indian border as a proxy force resulted in the ability to conceal the world’s public enemy number one. Worst of all, despite the best of intentions the ISI and military have with maintaining and fostering these groups, the price in political capital and public embarrassment once full disclosure is realized about the relationship between militants and the Pakistani authority, and the militants and Al Qaeda could cause a collapse of the system as a whole.
Pakistan remains known as a safe haven for some of the worlds most dangerous groups and leaders. This was made possible given the relationship with militant groups who claim the Kashmir Issue as their primary focus. In Mr. Geelani’s view, the situation in Afghanistan has not only given way to, “perfect militant training conditions”, additionally PoK based militants are able to exploit this relationship with the military and ISI by granting safe passage and aid in assisting the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to move without question in the border region. Following the killing of Bin Laden and his proximity to the heart of military and ISI training, there was no question in why he was there, and who was behind it.