by Paul Goodman
Imagine for a moment that while the IRA was still waging its terror campaign, Gerry Adams was discovered to be swanning around inside a specially-built fort in Dublin 4 – a part of the city famous for the wealth of its inhabitants.
The comparison isn't perfect. Adams ended up taking a different path to Bin Laden. For most of "the troubles", he wasn't hiding from the authorities (indeed, for part of it he was elected to the Commons). He was living in Northern Ireland, not the republic. The IRA, unlike Al Qaeda, wasn't an international operation.
But there's something in the analogy. According to the Times, Bin Laden was living in "a luxury maximum-security compound surrounded by the retirement homes of Pakistani generals, 45 miles from Islamabad". It was apparently purpose-built, "valued at $1 million but [with] no registered phone or internet connections".
So, then: no hiding-hole in the Tora-Bora mountains, no lonely cave in Wazirstan, no safe house in Quetta. Instead, a specially-built home placed not in Afghanistan at all, or somewhere formally in Pakistan though where its government's writ doesn't run…but deep in that country's heartland, only 45 miles from Islamabad.
The discovery of a purpose-built IRA safe house in Dublin, during those tense years, would have been deeply embarrassing for the Irish authorities. Questions would have been asked. Who knew? Who co-operated? Were Ireland's security services keeping track of events?
If so, did they inform their British colleagues, and if so when? Did any politicians know? And so on. The same sort of questions apply now, since Bin Laden seems to have been holed up in a house specially built for the Al Qaeda leadership.
I'm not sorry that Bin Laden is dead. If I'd friends or family who'd died in 9/11, I'd doubtless be thrilled. It's understandable that the news is being greeted rapturously in America. But truth be told, the killing of Bin Laden won't make all that much difference to Al Qaeda, given his marginalisation during recent years.
Indeed, he may be useful to that movement as a martyr. All in all, the news tells us less about Al Qaeda than it does about the riven, fissured, chaotic condition of Pakistan. It would defy belief to claim that no-one among Pakistan's sprawling security service establishment knew what was going on.
If you doubt it, ask how much the country's authorities would have been told about the Bin Laden operation in advance. The country's High Commissioner suggested earlier this morning that they weren't told at all. That may not be right, but any tip-off will have been severely restricted.