Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Pakistan in turmoil again over Osama Bin Laden

By Manzoor Ahmed

The ghost of Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden refuses to quit Pakistan almost six years after he was located in the garrison town of Abbottabad and killed in a daring heli-borne operation CALLED “Neptune Spear”, carried out by a team of the American special force SEAL.

The controversy has been revived in Pakistan over how much the powers-that-be at that time knew and whether they were party to the American raid that was obviously in violation of Pakistan’s space and hence, its sovereignty.

But it is also unlikely to leave former US President Barack Obama who ordered the high-risk operation and when it succeeded, took full credit for it, enough to win his re-election in 2012. Now out of office, Obama, or someone close to him, or someone in the new Trump administration may have to speak up.

The Obama administration had then asserted that it was a unilateral American strike without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities. Not just Osama who was shot dead, his fourth wife was also killed in the house. And the commandos left with huge quantities of documents, videos and other material. And the body of Osama was dumped into the sea as they flew out, undetected or at least, unchallenged.

This version was challenged by American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who claimed that ‘some’ in Pakistan knew in advance and they ensured the success of the raid by not challenging or interrupting it. Hersh said that Obama was not supposed to talk about it. Those ‘some’ in Pakistan were supposed to have asked that bin Laden be eliminated and the place of the killing should be in the Hindukush mountains.

The Obama administration denied Hersh’s contention so as not to embarrass Pakistanis who were livid. The mention of Abbottabad was because one of the helicopters in the raid could not take off after the operation and crashed.

Now, Hersh says he is vindicated by the version put out by Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US who was later fired under pressure from the Pakistan Army that, under Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, was livid with President Asif Ali Zardari. Haqqani was Zardari’s personal choice.

So, if you add two plus two, ‘some’ people in Pakistan did help US officials in getting to Osama, according to Haqqani who has set the cat among the Pakistani pigeons by writing an article in Washington Post. He confirms what Hersh wrote earlier.

It is significant that Admiral Mike Mullen, the US’ security chief at the time and eventually Haqqani had to resign in November 2011, just six months after the Operation Neptune Spear.

Haqqani identified Zardari and then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani as his “civilian leaders”, and revealed, “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army — even though I had acted under the authorization of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”

Post-Osama elimination, Zardari sent a ‘memo’ to Haqqani asking him to seek support for him from the US. The memo was received by Admifal Mullen. That became the “memogate’ scandal in Pakistan and the army very nearly overthrew him. He survived—although nobody will confirm this – because the Americans would have wanted to put a lid on the entire thing and did not want to be blamed for the ouster of a democratically elected president.

Out of office like Obama, Zardari could now face serious trouble at home. Leaders of PPP, his party, now in the opposition, have been forced to disown Haqqani for his “act of treason”. Khurshid Shah, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly, urged that Haqqani should not be given any importance as he had betrayed the country.

That may, or may not, spare Zardari, who has returned home recently after spending a long time in the UAE.

Thanks to Haqqani, who heads an American think tank in Washington and by his own public admission, cannot return to Pakistan, beans are being spilled all over again.

Talking to Dawn newspaper published from Karachi (March 15, 2017), on the strong Pakistani reaction to his article published in the Washington Post on Friday, Haqqani said: “Some people helped, but they did so independently. Yes, there’s some truth in Seymour Hersh’s story.”

In the Post article, Haqqani has indicated that the contacts he made with the Obama team during the 2008 election campaign ultimately led to Osama’s elimination in May


“Of course, I was right. I believe it even more now, as I know more than I did when I wrote the piece,” said 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.

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.

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.

“Your government knows who he is. 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,” 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.”

However, Hersh had heavily relied on a single unnamed “retired senior intelligence official” in the article that contradicts the Obama administration’s account.

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.

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 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”.

Dorfman noted that two senior US investigative journalists, Carlotta Gall and Steve Coll, also said that their own reporting corroborated, to various degrees, Hersh’s account.

Haqqani says: “The reaction in Pakistan surprises me. I said nothing new.” 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.”

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.” Further credence to Pakistani top brass in full knowledge comes from Nauman Sadiq, an Islamabad-based researcher in his writing in Eurasia Review (March 14, 2017).

He cites a May 2015 AFP report stating that Pakistan’s military sources had confirmed that there was a Pakistani defector who had met several times with Jonathan Bank, the CIA’s then-station chief in Islamabad, as a consequence of which the Pakistani intelligence disclosed Bank’s name to local newspapers and he had to leave Pakistan in a hurry in December 2010 because his cover was blown. Bank was later poisoned by ISI.

Once the Pakistani walk-in colonel, as stated in the aforementioned AFP report, had told then-CIA station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, that a high-value al Qaeda leader had been hiding in an ISI’s safe house in Abbottabad, right next to the Pakistan’s Military Academy, and after that when the CIA obtained further proof in the form of Bin Laden’s DNA through the fake vaccination program carried out by Dr. Shakil Afridi, then it was no longer possible for Pakistan’s security establishment to deny the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

Nauman Sadiq says that as Ambassador Haqqani has pointed out in his article that “the then-army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the ISI head, Shuja Pasha, were complicit in harboring Bin Laden, thus it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan’s military authorities might still have had strong objections to the US Navy Seals carrying out a raid in the garrison town of Abbottabad.

“But Pakistan’s civilian administration under the former President Asif Ali Zardari must have persuaded the army chief and the ISI head to order the Pakistan Air Force and the Air Defense Corps to stand down during the operation.”

All in all, the Osama bin Laden pot shall continue to boil as Pakistan struggles to woo the Donald Trump administration that has a distinct anti-Muslim bias and one that views Pakistan’s role in combating terrorism with deep suspicion.

(The writer is a Freelance journalist based in Kashmir)

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