WASHINGTON / NEW YORK: The claim that the ISI kept and protected Osama bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad contradicts the official US assessment of the situation, Pakistani diplomats in Washington said on Wednesday.
“Since the episode, senior US officials and leaders have on a number of occasions stated on record that they have seen no intelligence linking the government of Pakistan and any of its agencies with OBL’s presence in Abbottabad,” said a spokesperson for the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.
“To still believe otherwise and to resurrect the issue through unnamed sources and unconfirmed reports does not deserve attention,” the spokesperson added.
Earlier on Wednesday, The New York Times published excerpts from a book by its former Afghanistan correspondent Carlotta Gall, claiming that the former ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
In her upcoming book “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014,” Ms Gall also claimed that former president Pervez Musharraf and his top commanders were aware of Al Qaeda’s plan to assassinate Benazir Bhutto and that the ISI did not cooperate with the military in the 2007 operation against the Red Mosque militants.
Pakistani diplomats in Washington pointed out that on Nov 15, 2012, the Commander of US Special Operations forces, Admiral William McRaven, had also vindicated Pakistan.
According to a report published on the Pentagon’s official website on Nov 15, Admiral McRaven shared a “post-raid assessment” of the May 2, 2011, operation against Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad with CBS News.The assessment “concluded that there is no evidence that the Pakistani government knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden”, the report said.
The report also included Admiral McRaven’s quote, saying: “We have no intelligence that indicates the Pakistanis knew he was there.”Ms Gall, who covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for The New York Times from 2001 to 2013, claimed that the ISI ran a special desk to handle Bin Laden, which “operated independently” and was “led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior”.
The officer “handled only one person: Bin Laden”, she wrote.
In a portion that deals with the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Ms Gall reported that the mosque was founded by famed jihadi preacher, Maulana Muhammad Abdullah, who was assassinated in 1998.
“This too is incorrect as the mosque was already there when Maulana Abdullah joined it,” said a diplomatic source.
More than 100 people were killed in a 2007 siege of the mosque, including 10 commandos.
Ms Gall quoted a minister of the Musharraf government as complaining that the ISI asked “the militants to do what they wanted out of sympathy”.
In another portion, the writer claimed that Pakistan’s generals often used the militant for their own purpose, “most notoriously targeting Pakistan’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto”.
According to her, Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned Ms Bhutto that his intelligence service had “learned of a meeting of army commanders – Musharraf and his 10 most-powerful generals – in which they discussed a militant plot to have Bhutto killed”.
Ms Gall claimed that two teenage boys came to the Haqqania madressah in Akora Khattak a day before Ms Bhutto was killed and were escorted to Rawalpindi the next day.
On Dec 27, “one of the two teenagers fired a pistol at her and then detonated his vest of explosives. Bhutto was standing in the roof opening of an armoured SUV. She ducked into the vehicle at the sound of the gunfire, but the explosion threw the SUV forward, slamming the edge of the roof hatch into the back of her head with lethal force. Bhutto slumped down into the vehicle, mortally wounded, and fell into the lap of her confidante and constant chaperone, Naheed Khan”, Ms Gall wrote.
In the NYT report, Ms Gall wrote that the government under General Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief Lt Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan, the New York Times said in a report on Wednesday.
“The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned – a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation.”
She said that soon after the US Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house “a Pakistani official told me the US had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad”.
“The information came from a senior US official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid”, Ms Gall wrote in the article.
The haul of handwritten notes, letters, computer files and other information collected from Bin Laden’s house during the raid revealed regular correspondence “between Bin Laden and a string of militant leaders who must have known he was living in Pakistan, including Hafiz Muhammad Saeed... Saeed and Omar are two of the ISI’s most important and loyal militant leaders. Both are protected by the agency. Both cooperate closely with it, restraining their followers from attacking the Pakistani state and coordinating with Pakistan’s greater strategic plans. Any correspondence the two men had with Bin Laden would probably have been known to their ISI handlers,” the article said.