Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden is most likely to be hiding either in a Pakistani city or somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, claims Peter Bergen, a leading expert on terrorism.
In a long article in Atlantic Monthly, Bergen said bin Laden could possibly be hiding "somewhere in the mountains of Pakistani Kashmir - an area that is off limits to outsiders and home to numerous Kashmiri militant groups, some of which are deeply intertwined with al Qaeda. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), for instance, shared training camps in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda in the late 1990s."
Alternatively, said Bergen--who traveled to remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of his investigation -- "If bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are indeed in Balochistan or the North West Frontier, they may be hiding outside the remote tribal belt, in a city such as Peshawar or Quetta, or in a town such as Kohat or Dera Ismail Khan."
Bergen, CNN expert on terrorism and a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, disagrees with "the conventional wisdom that tracking bin Laden down won't make much of a difference to the larger war on terrorism anyway."
It would be "dangerously wrong" to suppose that it doesn't really matter whether he is apprehended, he says.
"Finding bin Laden remains of utmost importance for three reasons. First, there is the matter of justice for the 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 attacks, and for the hundreds of other victims of Al Qaeda attacks around the world.
"Second, every day that bin Laden remains at liberty is a propaganda victory for Al Qaeda. Third, although bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri don't exert day-to-day control over Al Qaeda, according to Roger Cressey, a former senior U.S. counter-terrorism official, they do continue to supply `broad strategic guidance' for the group's actions, and for those of its affiliates."
Bergen also quotes Pakistani analysts as saying that many of the radical Pakistani militant outfits have recently gathered under an umbrella organisation called Brigade 313.
Asserting that the Kashmiri militant groups are genuinely popular in Pakistan, Bergen notes that Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish terror group, is not under house arrest and has "good relations with (Pakistan's) spooks."
Noting that all the key Al Qaeda activists captured since 9/11 were found in the cities of Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi, he wonders: "How reliable is the Pakistani government in the effort to hunt down the terrorist group?"
But a former CIA official, Cofer Black, who is now US Coordinator for Counterterrorism, told Bergen that bin Laden is "no Ahab and Moby Dick kind of deal."
He "is on the run, he is very defensive, spending a lot of time worrying about security. How effective can you be?" asked Black.
To avoid being captured, bin Laden has to adopt a "hermit on the hilltop" strategy, which severely curtails his ability to run an effective terrorist organisation, said Black. And if he remains "in business," he opens himself to the possibility that his communications will be detected.
In other words, says Bergen, bin Laden "seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place."