WASHINGTON: Some people in Pakistan did help US officials in getting to Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, says Husain Haqqani, the country’s former ambassador to US, as does renowned US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
Talking to Dawn on the strong reaction to his article published in the Washington Post on Friday, Mr Haqqani said: “Some people helped, but they did so independently. Yes, there’s some truth in Seymour Hersh’s story.”
In the Post article, Mr Haqqani indicated that the contacts he made with the Obama team during the 2008 election campaign ultimately led to Osama bin Laden’s elimination in May 2011
“Of course, I was right. I believe it even more now, as I know more than I did when I wrote the piece,” said Mr Hersh when Dawn asked him if he still believed the article he wrote in May 2015 for the London Review of Books was right. The article was later included in his book, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, published last year.
Mr Haqqani said the May 2, 2011 US raid that killed Osama in a compound in Abbottabad was “a bleeding wound” for most Pakistanis “who still want to know why it happened and how.”
Although Pakistan formed a commission to probe the US raid, its findings were never made public, leaving the space open for rumours and speculations.
Mr Hersh recalled how a retired Pakistani military officer tipped the US embassy in Islamabad about Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, received $20 million as reward, was relocated to the United States and was now living in a Washington suburb with his new wife.
Former diplomat says he’s surprised over reaction to his write-up as he has made no disclosure in it
“Your government knows who he is. [Former US president Barack] Obama should not have talked about it right after it happened. He was to be shown in the Hindukush, not Abbottabad. That was the arrangement,” Mr Hersh said.
He said that he mentioned the name of the then CIA station manager in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, in the article because he knew he would never deny it. “He is an honourable man. That’s why he did not deny it.”
“All the CIA had to do was to produce Bank and have him deny it, but he did not, so they produced another retired CIA official,” Mr Hersh said.
However, Mr Hersh heavily relied on a single unnamed “retired senior intelligence official” in the article that contradicts the Obama administration’s account.
Mr Hersh also claimed that Bin Laden had been in Pakistan’s custody since 2005. He reported that his housing and care were being paid for by the Saudis; and that once Bin Laden’s location was revealed to the US, Pakistanis agreed to let US special forces raid his compound with the explicit understanding that Bin Laden was to be assassinated.
Americans were also supposed to delay announcing that Bin Laden had been killed for a few weeks and claim that he died in a firefight on the Afghan side of the mountainous Afghan-Pakistan border.
Mr Hersh claimed that Obama administration officials were so eager to cash in politically that they reneged on their pledge and disclosed the true location of the raid almost immediately.
Reviewing Mr Hersh’s book for The Los Angeles Times in April 2016, Zach Dorfman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, wrote that there exists “a plausible historical pattern, which lends credence — if not absolute credibility — to his account”.
Mr Dorfman noted that two senior US investigative journalists, Carlotta Gall and Steve Coll, also said that their own reporting corroborated, to various degrees, Mr Hersh’s account.
Mr Dorfman pointed to the decades-old relationship among the American, Pakistani and Saudi intelligence agencies and noted that the Obama administration did little to probe OBL’s presence in Abbottabad, although their reaction would have been completely different had Bin Laden been found in a Tehran neighbourhood.
Mr Haqqani, in his conversation with Dawn, appeared more interested in the reaction to his Washington Post article than in how and why Bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad. “The reaction in Pakistan surprises me. I said nothing new,” he said.
He said what he wrote about his close diplomatic ties established during the 2008 Obama campaign was also already in the public domain. “So, there’s no admission or confession in my article. Seems that some people read into things what they want to read.”
He noted that relations established during the 2008 campaign advanced to a relationship with the United States, which helped them to find OBL.
This, he said, was being misinterpreted in Pakistan as him having enabled the operation against OBL, which he said was not what he wrote.
Mr Haqqani said Americans stationed lot of people in Pakistan during that period who helped in the OBL raid. “Again, I made no statement to the effect that anybody in the embassy helped that. The article clearly says that Pakistan was not taken in the loop about the raid.”
Mr Haqqani said he gave no unauthorised visa to any US citizen. “It is sad that in Pakistan, to this day, no effort has been made to find out more about OBL being in Pakistan, and how Americans were able to find him when our own agencies could not.”
Responding to a question about some Pakistanis helping Americans in catching OBL, he said: “I wish Pakistanis would be happy to take some credit for eliminating the most wanted terrorist in the world instead of abusing me for re-stating known facts.”
Meanwhile, the PPP, which appointed him Pakistan’s 24th ambassador to Washington in April 2008, has disowned him. During a parliamentary debate on Monday, PPP leader Syed Khurshid Shah said Mr Haqqani’s Post article was “an act of treason”.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2017