ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday reminded the United States of its contribution towards locating Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and cautioned that President Donald Trump’s diatribe could undermine nascent cooperation for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

“Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua reminded the US Chargé d’Affaires (CdA) that it was Pakistan’s intelligence cooperation that provided the initial evidence to trace the whereabouts of OBL,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

US CdA Ambassador Paul Jones was summoned to the Foreign Office to receive protest over President Trump’s latest criticism of Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against terrorism and bin Laden’s stay here.

Army chief calls for acknowledgement of country’s sacrifices in war on terrorism

It was rather unusual for the Pakistan government to claim credit for cooperation with the US on bin Laden, who was eliminated in a US Special Forces raid on his hideout in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have otherwise had an extensive cooperation for the elimination of about a hundred top Al Qaeda leaders and other senior terrorist figures.

The civil and military leadership had immediately after the Abbottabad incident suggested that Pakistan had at some point in time cooperated with the US for finding bin Laden. It should be recalled that a meeting of the corps commanders held three days after the Abbottabad raid regretted that “in the case of Osama bin Laden, while the CIA developed intelligence based on initial information provided by ISI, it did not share further development of intelligence on the case with ISI, contrary to the existing practice between the two services”, according to an ISPR statement issued on that occasion.

President Barack Obama had, while announcing bin Laden’s killing, noted: “Our (US) counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”

However, as the public criticism at home against the US forces’ unauthorised raid deep inside the country and international uproar over bin Laden having then been found on Pakistani territory grew, Pakistani civilian and military leaders found themselves confronted with the choice of either accepting complicity or expressing ignorance about bin Laden and they conveniently chose the latter.

Subsequently, the official narrative remained that the US conducted a unilateral raid and Pakistani security agencies never knew anything about bin Laden’s stay in the country since he moved here from Afghanistan following the US invasion and toppling of the Taliban regime there in 2001.

Osama bin Laden is believed to have slipped into Kurram Agency in Pakistan from Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. It’s unclear how long he remained in Kurram Agency, but as per publicly known information he later stayed in Shangla between 2005 and 2007. He is believed to have moved to Abbottabad in 2007 where he lived till being taken out by the American forces.

Therefore, the latest FO statement was seen as a return to the original position after nearly seven-and-a-half years.

Moreover, while rejecting Mr Trump’s allegations as “unwarranted and unsubstantiated”, Secretary Janjua told Ambassador Jones that “baseless rhetoric about Pakistan was totally unacceptable”.

The US diplomat was further reminded that besides helping the US decimate Al Qaeda core, Pakistan had continued to support efforts of the international community in Afghanistan through ground/air and sea lines of communication, which were critical to their mission in Afghanistan.

Ms Janjua conveyed to the US diplomat that such “baseless allegations about a closed chapter of history” at this stage when the two countries were cooperating for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan could seriously undermine this vital cooperation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had a day earlier in his reaction to Mr Trump’s comments said: “Now we will do what is best for our people & our interests.”

Army chief’s reaction

A day after the political leadership from both sides of the aisle condemned President Trump’s interview and subsequent tweets, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa on Tuesday added his voice to the national chorus. His comments were tweeted by the military spokesman. The context of Gen Bajwa’s statement was not mentioned, but his remarks calling for acknowledgement of and respect for Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terrorism showed that he too was responding to Trump’s outburst.

“Pakistan has successfully fought against terrorism while also contributing to regional peace. Pakistan has done much more for peace in Afghanistan than any other country,” Gen Bajwa said.

“We have paid the highest military, economic, political and social cost and the world should acknowledge that. We shall continue to contribute towards peace in Afghanistan but Pakistan’s honour and Pakistan’s security shall always stay premier,” the army chief added.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2018