The hunt for Osama bin Laden has been at best complicated, and at worst obstructed, by Pakistan’s ambiguous relationship with the Taleban and al-Qaeda.
The relationship dates from the 1980s when the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency helped the CIA to funnel cash and arms to bin Laden and other members of the Mujahidin resistance against Soviet forces.
In the 1990s the ISI tried to offset Indian influence in Afghanistan by supporting the Taleban. The militants were sheltering bin Laden, who had by then turned his attention to attacking the US.
After 9/11 America made it clear that Pakistan had no choice but to co-operate in the War on Terror — and pressed it to purge the ISI of Taleban and al-Qaeda sympathisers.
But it continued to play a double game — most controversially airlifting hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taleban, al-Qaeda and ISI operatives out of the northern Afghan region of Kunduz in November 2001. Later that month more al-Qaeda fighters — probably including bin Laden — escaped from the southeastern Afghan region of Tora Bora by slipping over the border into Pakistan.
In 2002 the ISI created a Counter Terrorism Cell to work with the CIA and MI6 in hunting down al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan. Since then it has helped to capture or kill hundreds of low and middle- ranking al-Qaeda operatives but has yet to find substantial intelligence about bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Pakistani intelligence officials said that it had become difficult to track bin Laden after that because he stopped using satellite phones. In 2006 al-Zawahiri had narrowly escaped death in Bajaur when he was targeted by a US drone.
Western military commanders tend to scoff at Pakistan’s failure to deal with bin Laden.Those with longer memories draw parallels with the Faqir of Ipi, an insurgent commander who dragged the British into one of their most costly counter-insurgency campaigns of the 20th century. Between 1936 and 1947 he tied up thousands of British troops along the same tribal frontier in a futile series of operations to capture him.
The Faqir died in 1960, alone, at peace, and still very much at liberty 14 years after the British had departed.