Until more information becomes available, the border lines between analysis, speculation and conspiracy theories about the death of Osama bin Laden — not to mention his life over the past decade — are pretty fuzzy. At the moment, we are all lost in a wilderness of mirrors. But I am prepared to use the basic information that bin Laden was killed by US SEALS in Abbottabad and buried at sea as a starting point — and even this account is far from universally accepted.

The most generous interpretation of the Pakistani government’s denial of culpability in sheltering bin Laden is that it comes too soon for the issue to have been fully investigated. At the moment, the question is whether or not his support network is far enough from the establishment to be described as rougue players. The nature of bin Laden’s relationship with any Pakistani protectors is as unknown as their identity. Who exactly was controlling who?

The flip side of the “double game” the Pakistani government and military are said to have been playing with the US, by its nature, utilises both sides for the purposes of the game player — not just one. If elements within the Pakistani military and/or security services have been “using” the US, then they would also have been “using” bin Laden to the best of their ability. It’s also possible they were playing a waiting game as well as a double game, holding bin Laden in reserve until such time as it became useful to either turn him in or turn him loose.

The various aspects of the Abbottabad residence that are said to have provided bin Laden with security — its location in a military town, the lack of phone and internet connections —  would also have placed him under the effective control of whoever had facilitated them. In which case, the rationale for locating the al-Qaida leader in Abbottabad may have been more about keeping him “under survellience” than  “hidden in plain sight”, and anyone from the Pakistani military and/or intelligence service who was responsible for dealing him may have regarded themselves not so much as his protectors as his handlers.

Depending on how effective their control may have been, he would not have been a fully autonomous agent and would only have been able to undertake such actions to serve the interests of his Pakistani protectors/handlers, or at least did not run counter to them.

In which case, another 9/11-style strike against a Western city was almost certainly not on the agenda. Bin Laden would have been seen as a weapon or a potential weapon for the purposes of those issues that preoccupy the Pakiitani military and political culture — Kashmir and “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, with Kashmir always the primary focus.

Insofar as any of this counts as analysis, it is of course based on speculation. All I can say in my own defense is that I am no more lost in the wilderness of mirrors than anybody else.

Peter Fray

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