The first time Robert Fisk, the iconic British journalist and author (and Arabist), met Osama bin Laden was back in the misty pages of history in 1993. In his magnum opus The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (shame on you if you haven't yet got hold of that classic), this is how Fisk recalled the setting: "Our journey north from Khartoum lay through a landscape of white desert and ancient, unexplored pyramids, dark, squat Pharaonic tombs smaller than those of Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus at Giza. Though it was December, a sharp, superheated breeze moved across the desert, and when Kashoggi tired of the air conditioning and opened his window, it snapped at his Arab headdress." Fisk was handpicked by bin Laden for his first-ever interview with a western journalist. Then they met twice again - in Afghanistan.
Fisk's tribute to bin Laden in today's Independent has the poignancy of a passionate chronicler who angrily, incisively and vividly delved into the heart of darkness of radical Islam. He begins by stressing that bin Laden had become more or less a 'spent force': "A middle-aged nonentity, a political failure outstripped by history – by the millions of Arabs demanding freedom and democracy in the Middle East – died in Pakistan yesterday."
And, that takes Fisk to the million dollar question: "Betrayed? Of course he was. By the Pakistan military or the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence? Quite possibly both." In sum, the Pakistani military leadership decided to turn in bin Laden, as the law of diminishing returns is at work any whichever way you look at it.
By the way, do read the edited extract from Fisk's classic which I mentioned above, narrating his second meeting with bin Laden.