Will Pakistan release its Osama bin Laden Abbottabad report?

More than a year after Pakistan said it would find out who was responsible for failing to catch Osama bin Laden on its own soil, a formal investigation has only produced rumors.

Anjum Naveed/AP/File
In this file photo, local people and media gather outside the perimeter wall and sealed gate of the compound and house, top left, where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

A year and a half after the Pakistani government said it would find out exactly what happened and who was responsible for failing to catch the most wanted man in the world – Osama bin Laden – hiding in plain sight in Pakistan, the only thing that has come from a formal investigation are rumors.

It generally takes Pakistan years to release findings from special commissions. At the most, reports may get leaked to the press, but that also often takes months. Though many were hoping the report results would bring to task the powerful military establishment often accused by the West of supporting extremists and their affiliates, in light of reported leaks that the commission will exonerate Pakistani authorities, analysts believe that the whole exercise may have been futile.

“In Pakistan, whenever the authorities want to hide something under the carpet and hoodwink the public, the government forms a commission. That is been the historic practice,” says Zaman Khan, spokesperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Mr. bin Laden had been living in the garrison neighborhood of Abbottabad, a city about 40 miles from the capital of Pakistan, for five years before he was killed in a raid by the US Navy SEALs in May 2011, prompting an investigation by the Pakistani government to ascertain facts regarding his presence there.

A formal commission was set up, and a report was slated to come out with the findings by the end of last year. However, it faced a 10-month delay because of lack of consensus among commission members, according to an official who worked on the report and asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media. 

The commission was initially a contentious issue between the government and the opposition, but later there was agreement in the Pakistani parliament to go ahead with investigations.

However, almost a year and a half later, no one in the government or the opposition seems interested in its outcome. 

“It was not possible to retrace bin Laden’s steps since the commission had not come across any such proof of how he ended up in Abbottabad,” the official says, adding that the commission members want the report to be made public.

According to Mr. Zaman, the civil society and media have done all they can to pressure the government into punishing those behind the negligence or complicity of the US finding bin Laden in “our own backyard.”

“We as nongovernmental organization can have a moral voice to remind the government of its duties. Beyond that, we cannot do much because the government does not give a damn about us if it does not want to,” he says.

Whether it will ever be released remains to be seen. “I can only confirm that the report has been submitted to the higher-ups in the government, and it is up to them to decide whether to make it public or not,” says Fawad Chaudry, adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Some media reports suggest that the commission has already cleared the Pakistani military of responsibility, but the government has been tight-lipped on that.

Analysts say that if the report does indeed clear the military government, the government has missed a chance to finally challenge the power of the military and rebalance Pakistan's leadership. 

“This government has missed historic opportunities to right the civil-military balance, since it has only been concerned with perpetuating its five-year term in office. Because if it did go after the military, its power structure could be threatened, like it has been in the past whenever civilians have challenged the military clout,” says Zarrar Khuhro, a columnist and editor at a leading English magazine in Pakistan.

“How did the inquiry commission come to a conclusion of exonerating the institutions? We do not know this yet, and it is an invisible paper shield until they decide to make it public,” says Mr. Khuhro.

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