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In aftermath of scathing bin Laden report, Pakistan asks itself hard questions

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News Analysis

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The leak of a 336-page report investigating the security lapses that led to both Osama bin Laden’s extensive stay in Pakistan and the raid that killed him on May 1, 2011 shows that Pakistan has finally started asking itself some tough questions.

The Abbottabad Commission, whose report was first obtained by Al Jazeera, was launched two years ago. The report is the most comprehensive Pakistani account to date of what went wrong in the Islamic Republic’s hunt for the world’s most wanted man. 

All of Pakistan’s major state institutions – the powerful military, its fearsome intelligence apparatus, its widespread police networks, and even its elected government officials – fall under the hammer in the unusually caustic report that found “gross incompetence” by all parties. It should come as no surprise that the report was not officially released.

The frankness of the report is unprecedented for an official study commissioned by the nuclear powered Islamic republic that often blames foreign powers for all that ails its economy and its people.

The report details bin Laden’s movements around Pakistan for almost a decade (from a major city, to a mountain resort, to small town, to a cantonment); the municipal permission to build an illegal structure that eventually became the mansion where he lived and fathered two children; the inability to follow up on intelligence shared by the United States; the lax attitude and negligence displayed by the Pakistanis that allowed the U.S. to conduct both the ground surveillance and the Navy SEAL raid that embarrassed the country; and even the inability of a policeman who once stopped bin Laden for speeding to recognize him.

The details paint the picture of one of the worst intelligence failures in history.

On bin Laden’s extensive stay in Pakistan, the report read: "Given the length of stay and the changes of residence of [bin Laden] and his family in Pakistan … the possibility of some such direct or indirect and ‘plausibly deniable’ support cannot be ruled out, at least, at some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment."

On the failure of Pakistan's premier intelligence agency to gather information, the report said: "For the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] to say that it stopped its own search because it thought the U.S. had done so, showed both its naivete and its lack of commitment to eradicating extremism, ignorance and violence which is the single biggest threat to Pakistan."

The country’s military is not happy. A ranking military official told NBC News, “We are going to find the leak. And he's going to wish he was [Edward] Snowden, living in an airport.”

No government official has commented on the report and leading ministers did not respond to NBC’s request for comment. NBC News also reached out to the report’s four authors -- a former general, a former judge, a former diplomat and a former police official -- for comment, but none responded. The report’s leak has also been largely played down in Pakistan, a country known for its rambunctious media.

“The Commission’s report has a healthy dose of skepticism that incompetence of this scale must involve duplicity,” said Cyril Almeida, a reporter for the daily Dawn newspaper.

The Dawn published an editorial on Tuesday titled “No More Secrecy: Abbottabad Commission report” that urged the government to officially release the report so that corrective action and accountability can happen.

Almeida cautiously praised the purpose of the report.

“The report was key in reminding us of a narrative Pakistan often forgets, which is fixing itself,” said Almeida. “It said, 'Look guys, the national institutions of the country need a new script.' Something has to give. Or else, someone may come along, like [the movie] Zero Dark Thirty, and write a new script for us. And next, someone else will come along and unravel this entire project called ‘Pakistan’ for us.”

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