WASHINGTON: The United States never thought of consulting Pakistan before raiding the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad because it feared that the ISI was protecting him, writes former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
In his new book, titled ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,’ Mr Gates also reveals a US attempt to oust Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 elections.
The central players in the backchannel effort to unseat Mr Karzai were Richard Holbrooke, then the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, then the US ambassador to Kabul.
The book depicts a gloomy picture of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan and shows how they never trusted each other. While the Americans were focused on fighting the terrorists, the Pakistanis wanted to retain their influence in Afghanistan at any cost and that’s why they never broke their ties to the Taliban, Mr Gates argues.
“Although I would defend them in front of Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse — and endangering our supply line from Karachi — I knew they were really no ally at all,” says the former US defence secretary.
Abbottabad raid: Mr Gates says that when they were planning to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in May 2011, he was worried that the ISI was aware of the Al Qaeda chief’s whereabouts.
“I worried that Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence was aware of where Osama bin Laden was and that there might be rings of security around the compound that we knew nothing about or, at minimum, that ISI might have more eyes on the compound than we could know,” he writes.
The worst-case scenario was that the Pakistanis could get a number of troops to the compound quickly, prevent extraction of our team and take them prisoner.
The officer in-charge of the operation, Vice Admiral William McRaven, told him that if they confronted the Pakistani military during the operation, US commandos would just hunker down and wait for a “diplomatic extraction”.
The admiral told him that American soldiers “would wait inside the compound and not shoot any Pakistanis”.
“I then asked what they would do if the Pakistanis breached the walls: ‘Do you shoot or surrender?’ Our team couldn’t surrender, I said. If the Pakistani military showed up, our team needed to be prepared to do whatever was necessary to escape,” Mr Gates writes.
“After considerable discussion, there was broad agreement to this, and as a result, additional MH-47 helicopters and forces were assigned to the mission,” he says.Mr Gates writes that ahead of the Abbottabad raid no one inside the administration talked about seeking Pakistani help in killing Bin Laden.
“No one thought we should ask the Pakistanis for help or permission. In every instance when we had provided a heads-up to the Pakistan military or intelligence services, the target was forewarned and fled, or the Pakistanis went after the target unilaterally, prematurely and unsuccessfully,” he says.Mr Gates describes the successful US raid on Bin Laden’s compound as humiliating for the Pakistan Army.
The former US defence secretary recalls that during his last visit to Islamabad in January 2010, he met the then President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and returned convinced that Pakistan would not sever its ties to the Taliban.
Mr Gates writes that he visited Islamabad with a clear and ‘consistent’ message: “We are committed to a long-term strategic partnership (and) we needed to work together against the ‘syndicate of terror’ placing Afghanistan, Pakistan and India at risk.”
The two countries also needed to work together “to remove safe havens on both side of the border; Pakistan needed to better control anti-Americanism and harassment of Americans; and the Pakistani army’s ‘extra-judicial killings’ were putting our relationship at risk,” Mr Gates recalls.
“The visit was for naught,” says the former US defence secretary while complaining that Pakistani leaders did not share his views.
Mr Gates says that he returned convinced that “Pakistan would work with the US in some ways — such as providing supply lines through Pakistan, which were also highly profitable — while at the same time providing sanctuary for the Taliban and other extremists.”
The Pakistanis wanted to do so because they wanted to ensure “that no matter who came out on top in Afghanistan, Pakistan would have influence. If there was to be any reconciliation, the Pakistanis intended to control it.”
Mr Gates, who worked for the US government for 26 years, claims that no US administration in his entire career “devoted more time and energy to working the Pakistanis than did President (Barack) Obama and all his senior team.”
He recalls how weeks before his inauguration, Mr Obama and his senior aides, including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, spent nearly an hour discussing on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
“Pakistan was described as the biggest, most dangerous situation,” he writes.
In Mach 2009, President Obama held a series of meetings to discuss Bruce Riedel’s draft of his Af-Pak policy, which recommended disrupting the terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan.
The new policy also called for a more effective government in Afghanistan, developing the Afghan security forces.
For ending Pakistan’s support for terrorist and insurgent groups, it suggested enhancing civilian control in Pakistan, and using US diplomatic, military, and intelligence channels to reduce enmity and distrust between Pakistan and India.“It was breath-taking in its ambition,” Mr Gates writes.
When President Obama announced his Af-Pak strategy, he too had reservations on Pakistan’s cooperation.
“I also doubted we could persuade the Pakistanis to change their ‘calculus’ and go after the Afghan and other extremists on their side of the border,” writes Mr Gates.“When a Pakistani Taliban offensive that spring reached within sixty miles of Islamabad, the Pakistani army went after them in Swat and South Waziristan for their own protection.”
Pakistan’s “continuing toleration of the Afghan Taliban, including harbouring their leaders in Quetta was a hedging strategy based on their lack of trust in us, given unwillingness to stay engaged in Afghanistan in the early 1990s,” he writes.
The book is scheduled to be released next week.