As new details emerge daily about how the world’s most wanted terrorist was able to live in a mansion in close proximity to the Pakistani Military Academy, an unavoidable question remains to be fully answered: how exactly did he go unnoticed for so long? Under mounting international pressure, the Pakistani government has finally begun an investigation into the matter.
While there are many details to be revealed, we’re interested in one factoid in particular: how one of Bin Laden’s assistants used forging documents to secure the necessary government permits and approvals for building the villa. Using a fake identity and documents, “Arshad Khan,” Bin Laden’s most trusted courier, was able to purchase a plot of land where the house now stands. He was also able to get the local power company to link the villa to the power grid.
While we don’t often preach about the negative impact that corruption can have on national security issues, Villa-Gate could well become the poster child example for how poor governance and corruption can threaten vital security interests. Were Pakistan’s personal documentation system less prone to bribes, it might have been possible to deny the forged paperwork to Bin Laden’s couriers, and might have ultimately made the Abottabad location untenable as a functioning safe house. Poor governance inside of Pakistan’s National Data Registration Authority (NADRA) could be paving the way for other Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to go unnoticed.
Stepping up intelligence efforts and surveillance is only one part of the puzzle when it comes to curbing extremism in Pakistan. The media attention around Bin Laden’s ability to live in a mansion in Abbotabad is probably more surprising outside of Pakistan than inside the country. For Pakistanis who are all-too-familiar with the country’s endemic corruption, this incident only confirms their belief that the country’s lack of transparent and accountable government provides safe haven for extremists. Governance reform needs to be at the top of the agenda in Pakistan if further Villa-Gates are to be avoided.
— Mohsin Ali