Back in 2001, the Americans were sure that Osama bin Laden would be found secreted away in the depths of the remote Tora Bora cave system in Afghanistan.
But the Al Qaeda leader was instead run to ground on the other side of the border in Pakistan.
His discovery in a city less than two hours drive from Islamabad, and close to Pakistan’s top military academy, will prompt blunt questions from Washington about the exact nature of Pakistan’s role in the fight to contain extremism.
It was in Pakistan that another key al Qaeda operative was discovered. Khaled Sheikh Mohammed is accused of masterminding the September 11 attacks. He was apprehended in Rawalpindi in 2003.
Then, in February last year, another suspect was seized. Senior Taliban figure Mullah Biradhar is also said to be a member of al Qaeda. He too was arrested in Pakistan, in the city of Karachi.
These operations were carried out with the help of Pakistan’s secret service, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). But classified documents recently published by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks suggest the ISI is on a list of organisations the US suspects of having links to al Qaeda. Pakistan has denied that but for some, it has cast a different light on bin Laden’s capture.
“It could have been possible that Pakistan’s ISI would have thought that Osama bin Laden’s capture and death would actually help salvage US-Pakistan relations at this moment.” said international relations professor, Dr Tahir Ameen.
Ongoing CIA operations in Pakistan have undermined the relationship between Washington and Islamabad in recent months. That is despite a pledge of economic support from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Islamabad has ordered all US agents to leave its territory, even though Washington’s support is vital to the Pakistani military fighting extremist groups along the Afghan border.
For some, the US operation to capture bin Laden is an unsanctioned encroachment. “No outside forces should be allowed to enter Pakistani territory. If any country has carried out an operation inside our territory, it is against our sovereignty. We should not give permission to anyone to do that,” said Pakistani lawyer Ghulam Murtaza.
The increasing number of civilian deaths from US drone attacks in Pakistan’s frontier region is already fuelling anti-US sentiment. Some say bin Laden’s death risks being seen as yet another concession to the United States and could further fan the flames of anger already burning among groups of extremists.