ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former air force chief says top military officials, including himself and the former army and intelligence chiefs, were unaware of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad before a US raid killed the former al Qaeda chief.
Air Chief Marshal (retd) Rao Qamar Suleman’s attention was drawn to an excerpt of an upcoming book recently published in the New York Times. The book – “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014” penned by NYT correspondent Carlotta Gall – claims that former Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Pervez Kayani and then-ISI chief Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha were aware of Osama’s presence in the country.
Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals inside his compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.
“General Kayani phoned me at 2:07 am and informed me that two foreign helicopters have been detected and to please check this movement,” Suleman told Dawn.com at the M.M. Alam airbase in Mianwali, recalling the incidents that happened that night.
The incident had sparked a public outcry with people asking how the most sought after fugitive lived in the country evading the snooping eyes of otherwise menacing local spies and how US forces could carry out an hours-long hostile operation without any resistance from the Pakistani military.
The Pakistan government later formed a five-member commission to probe the incident.
“I have told the Abbotabad commission all the facts about the incident in which Osama bin Laden was killed, including the record of phone calls and maps,” he said.
To a question, he said that US Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen rang up General Kayani at 5:00 am on the same morning and informed him that US soldiers had conducted the operation and killed Osama inside Pakistan.
The former air chief said Pakistan Air Force (PAF) radars were working well at the time of the intrusion by US Navy SEALS but were not set at low altitude because Pakistan did not consider US as its enemy.
“PAF radars at the Pakistan-China border, Pakistan-Iran border and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have not been on low altitude because there have been no threats to our security from these countries.
“According to Pakistan’s security policy, USA has never been an enemy. Rather, it has been our friend so we never alerted our radars towards the western borders,” he said.
“After the Abbottabad operation, the entire national security policy has been revised and now radars on all borders monitor every movement,” he said.
Ms Gall, who covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for The New York Times from 2001 to 2013, has also claimed in her book 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.
A spokesperson for the military’s media wing denied the allegations. “Nobody in Pakistan knew about the presence of Osama bin Laden,” said a text message sent out by the ISPR to correspondents on behalf of the ISI. “There is no truth in the New York Times report,” it said.
Pakistan’s foreign office on Thursday also rebuffed the claims. “These are baseless allegations and the ISPR and former PAF chief have already denied these,” said a spokesperson at the weekly briefing of the Foreign Office.