What does it mean, exactly, for Osama bin Laden to have been discovered so close to Islamabad (just 80 miles away)?
I have a conspiracy theory. I think it means that there were at least some elements within the Pakistani military who hoped, in a collapse of the Pakistani civilian government, to dramatically produce Bin Laden as part of a new government.
I get a bit of bolstering for this theory from the advice David Kilcullen, an advisor to General Petraeus, gave to a Washington Post interviewer back in 2009: watch Pakistan.
Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn’t control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don’t follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We’re now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover — that would dwarf everything we’ve seen in the war on terror today.
Kilcullen’s timing is way off, and, apparently, the civilian government in Islamabad doesn’t even control a city just 80 miles away from its center. But imagine what would have been the effect—sometime in, say, 2012—if revolutionary Islamists took control of a collapsed state and trotted Osama bin Laden out onto a balcony, Pope-like, to supportive crowds. Whether as a figurehead or the leader of a government with 100 nuclear weapons, the moment would have been alarming (to say the least).
And Barack Obama, his intelligence team, and the commandos he authorized, arrested this possibility.
So there’s probably a small cadre of military men in Pakistan, al-Qaeda sympathizers, gnashing their teeth right now, wondering who betrayed Bin Laden’s whereabouts to the Americans and foiled a key element in their revolutionary conspiracy.
But the issue of nukes in Pakistan (and soon to be in Iran)—and their potential for use in regional wars and proliferation to terrorists—will almost certainly come to dominate the rest of this decade. Osama bin Laden’s discovery in the bosom of the Pakistani military is a prelude to this, not a moment of “closure.”