ISI tip enabled US to take out Osama: PM

Published July 24, 2019
PRIME Minister Imran Khan and United States Institute of Peace president Nancy Lindborg take part in a discussion on Tuesday.—AFP
PRIME Minister Imran Khan and United States Institute of Peace president Nancy Lindborg take part in a discussion on Tuesday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan told a US news channel on Monday that Pakistan’s main spy agency provided the US with a lead that helped them find and take out Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

The prime minister referred to the US raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad again on Tuesday, saying that he never felt more humiliated than he did on May 2, 2011 when American commandos took him out without informing Pakistan.

“Never did I feel more humiliated than I did when OBL was taken out in Pakistan,” he said in his speech at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington. “Here was a country which was an ally, which did not trust us [enough to tell about the raid]. We do not want to be humiliated like this again.”

• Imran urges India to come to negotiating table • Seeks a relationship of equals with US, not aid • Advocates accountability of media

Mr Khan made the revelation about the initial help provided by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in tracking down Bin Laden in an interview with Fox News hours after his meeting with US President Donald Trump, which he says could reset ties between the United States and Pakistan.

Asked if his country would release Shakil Afridi, a doctor jailed for conducting a fake immunisation drive that helped the US track Bin Laden, Prime Minister Khan said: “This is a very emotive issue, because Shakil Afridi in Pakistan is considered a spy. We in Pakistan always felt that we were an ally of the US and if we had been given the information about Osama Bin Laden, we should have taken him out.”

When the host, Bret Baier, asked if he understood the scepticism around the ISI for leaking key information, the prime minister said: “And yet it was ISI that gave the information which led to the location of Osama bin Laden.”

He paused and then said again, “If you ask CIA it was ISI which gave the initial location through the phone connection.”

The prime minister did not provide more detail and when Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was asked to comment on Mr Khan’s statement, he said: “I have not watched the interview. I will discuss it with the PM and get back to you.”

Asad Durrani, a former ISI and Military Intelligence chief, had also told Al Jazeera in 2015 that the ISI probably knew where Bin Laden was hiding and had shared this information with the Americans before the Abbottabad raid. But this was the first such confirmation by a Pakistani ruler.

In the same interview, the prime minister said that Pakistan would give up its nuclear weapons if India also did the same.

“Nuclear war is not an option. And between Pakistan and India, the idea of nuclear war is actually self-destruction, because we have two and a half thousand-mile border,” Mr Khan said while explaining why he was willing to give up the nukes.

“Also, I think there’s a realisation in the subcontinent and there was some incident that happened last February and we again had tension at the border,” he said.

The prime minister said that at Monday’s joint news conference, and later in a meeting, he had asked President Trump to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. “I asked President Trump if he could play his role, the US is the most powerful country in the world, the only country that could mediate between Pakistan and India and the only issue is Kashmir,” he said.

“The only reason for 70 years that we have not been able to live like civilised neighbours is because of Kashmir.”

When the interviewer mentioned India’s response to President

Trump’s offer to mediate, the prime minister said: “I really feel that India should come on the table. The US could play a big part. President Trump certainly can play a big part. We’re talking about 1.3 billion people on this Earth. Imagine the dividends of peace if somehow that issue could be resolved.”

India said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had never asked Mr Trump to mediate, as the US leader claimed, as New Delhi believed that all issues with Pakistan should only be discussed bilaterally.

In his speech at the USIP, the prime minister also explained what sort of a relationship he wants with the United States.

“We would like to have a relationship of mutual trust, … a relationship between equals, a friendship,” he said. “This is not how it’s before. The US gave us aid and [we] were expected to do certain things in return.”

The new relationship, he said, would be better because it would be based on a mutual understanding on Afghanistan.

“We do not want aid. The aid has been one of the curses for our country. It has created dependency syndrome,” he said. “It is against our dignity and humiliating.”

Hafiz Saeed

Asked if Pakistan would keep Jamaatud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed behind bars or set him free again, Mr Khan said this would be decided by the judiciary.

But, “it’s in the interest of Pakistan that we do not allow any armed movement inside the country because it has de-stabilised us,” he said. “We have decided that we will disarm all militant groups. It’s [a consensus] across the political divide. All political parties support it. The army is behind us, is helping us disarm all the groups.”

Responding to another question about the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), the prime minister said it was a “movement stemming out of anger” caused by the army action in the tribal areas. “Whenever you send an army into the civil area there’s massive collateral damage. Houses, shops and livestock destroyed. People are forced leave home.”

He said that while he understood why the PTM was created, he did not appreciate some of the actions they took. “The problem is that the PTM leadership kept attacking the army, now the situation is calming down,” he said.

Media freedom

The prime minister said he was one of the biggest beneficiaries of a free media, but “what sometimes is called freedom of speech is the freedom of the owners of the media to conduct whatever they want to do.”

Mr Khan claimed that some media outlets in Pakistan supported corrupt politicians and launched personal attacks on him. “Media houses will have to pay taxes and should also be accountable. You cannot have a media that’s not accountable,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2019

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