ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Four days after the deadly airstrike, the picture on the ground remains as murky as the operation was covert. But analysts say answers are beginning to emerge to some key questions.
How bad is the fallout?
Potentially, very bad. Already, over the weekend, tens of thousands of angry Pakistanis took to the streets, insisting, in the words of one protester, "Pakistan is a U.S. ally in the war on terror, but not a U.S. state!"
Monday, former President George H. W. Bush, now a United Nations special envoy, met with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to discuss relief from October's devastating earthquake. But for many Pakistanis, the airstrike squandered all goodwill toward America and damaged Musharraf's credibility.
Why would Zawahiri even be inside Pakistan, as alleged?
Most importantly, experts say, because he can hide in remote tribal areas along the Afghan border, protected by loyal fighters who, like his wife, are ethnic Pashtuns.
Some Pakistani intelligence sources believe Zawahiri was to attend a festive dinner with his wife's relatives on the night of the attack, in the village of Domadola, but he changed his mind and sent aides instead.
What did Pakistanis really know about the attack?
Very little. It seemed to take the country by surprise. Government officials claim they had no warning. Even former intelligence chief Gen. Hameed Gul, who worked closely with the CIA for years, said he was shocked.
"The CIA, they are responsible for the action and then Pakistan is not taken into confidence," he says.
But other counterterrorism sources tell NBC News that, with 50,000 security forces along the Afghan border, Pakistani agents must have been in the know.
Could the intelligence have been phony?
Pakistan's five intelligence agencies — with different agendas — compete with each other. Intelligence is often sold to the highest bidder and corruption runs deep.
"And that is why sometimes an operation has failed, like with the case of Ayman al-Zawahri," says counterterrorism expert Sajjan Gohel.
Failed, unless Zawahri was killed. But that remains the biggest unanswered question.
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