By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Myth of Osama bin Laden (OBL) was the creation of CIA and none else. CIA gave birth to al-Qaeda and fondly nurtured it throughout its infancy in the decade of 1980s. The ISI had no connection with al-Qaeda, since it was a collection of Arabs collected together by CIA from Arab countries and pushed into the inferno of Afghanistan. CIA would have continued to patronize al-Qaeda had Soviet Union not accepted defeat and withdrawn from Afghanistan and subsequently fragmented. Lionized OBL became a terrorist and his al-Qaeda became a terrorist outfit once the US achieved its objective and al-Qaeda had lost its utility value. He was chased and hunted after the two attacks on US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and on USS Cole warship off Yemeni coast in late 1990s. An attempt was made on him when his camp in Khost was hit by cruise missiles from a US aircraft carrier anchored in Arabian Sea near Karachi in August 1998.
Nawaz Sharif during his stint in power from 1997 to 1999 had formed a special force of Army commandoes in 1998 to track down OBL in Afghanistan after Mullah Omar confided in the then DGISI Lt Gen Ziauddin that OBL had become a thorn stuck in the throat that could neither be swallowed nor belched out. After 9/11, when Pakistan under Gen Musharraf took a strategic decision to cooperate with US led coalition to fight the menace of terrorism, its top priority was to locate and apprehend OBL.
A massive manhunt was launched to hunt OBL. All world intelligence agencies led by CIA were co-opted to trace him. After scanning the globe, it was finally concluded that OBL and other leaders of al-Qaeda were hiding somewhere along the Pak-Afghan border. Pak Army was forced to enter South Waziristan and launch an operation to hunt al-Qaeda operatives. Liberal Gen Musharraf had all along maintained a hostile policy against al-Qaeda and Taliban during his nine-year stint in power. Several attempts were jointly made on his life by TTP-Qaeda combine but he was lucky to survive. Fond of collecting head money, he would have welcomed a heavy package of $25 million by nabbing OBL. Gen Kayani had served as his DGISI from 2005-07 and pursued his policies. President Zardari and PM Gilani are also pursuing Musharraf’s policies favoring USA. Had Gen Kayani or former DG ISI Lt Gen Pasha expressed reservations over government’s pro-US policy or war on terror, the two would not have been given extensions. Therefore to allege that the Army and ISI are in cahoots with al-Qaeda is absurd and devoid of rationality.
Al-Qaeda was enfeebled by Pak Army and ISI and not by US-NATO and CIA as is being claimed. Proof of Pakistan’s claim is based on the fact that all high value leaders of this outfit were nabbed by Pak security forces and ISI and none by CIA. Over 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives were netted in Pakistan because the US military could not get them when they were huddling together in Tora Bora caves in December 2001. After flushing them out of the caves by using daisy cutters and cluster bombs, they were allowed to escape to Pakistan via Kurram Agency. That way, the US purposely shifted terrorism from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
ISI nabbed over one hundred al-Qaeda commanders and key fighters and handed them over to CIA. Arrested persons were shifted to Gitmo jail in Cuba. Conversely, in the last ten years, CIA could hardly arrest 2-3 al-Qaeda mid-profile leaders in Afghanistan. Till as late as end 2007, units engaged in counter terrorism in FATA were made solely dependent upon intelligence provided by CIA. No operation could be launched without clearance from JSOC in Peshawar. Subsequently, Blackwater were secretly inducted in 2008 and under cover Special Forces operatives in 2010 to beef up CIA’s network in urban centers under various garbs. With complete liberty of action, why couldn’t CIA trace out OBL, detached from al-Qaeda and living a life of a fugitive?
OBL was in command of al-Qaeda till December 2001. After his escape from Tora Bora Mountains, his lieutenants ran the show, particularly when OBL developed kidney problems and became seriously sick in 2004. If Pakistan can arrest its own citizen Khalid Sheikh, supposedly the master planner of 9/11, Aafia Siddiqui and several others and hand them over to USA, why would it have sheltered OBL belonging to Saudi Arabia, well knowing its dangerous repercussions?
Pakistanis have suffered maximum losses at the hands of al-Qaeda since it had declared war against Pakistan. What advantage Pak Army/ISI would have gained by taking so huge a risk of hosting a sick man cut off from his outfit and majority of his lieutenants and fighters killed and captured by Pak security forces? Could Army/ISI afford such a huge embarrassment, when it was being accused of series of allegations and Pakistan was undergoing massive socio-politico-economic problems due to the US imposed war on terror? Therefore, to say that Pakistan’s premier institutions were hiding OBL in Abbottabad is travesty of truth. But for ISI’s critical lead in 2009, CIA could never have reached OBL’s hideout.
It cannot be denied that OBL was viewed as a hero by a large segment within the entire Muslim world and even in the non-Muslim world. Massive worldwide hunt launched by CIA and affiliate agencies for a decade and none knowing whether he was dead or alive contributed to his popularity. Numerous reports suggested that he died during massive bombing of Tora Bora in December 2001, or he died in 2004 or 2006 owing to kidneys failure since he was on dialysis. It was also widely speculated that the US kept him alive to justify its prolonged stay in Afghanistan and its huge defence expenditure. In some ways, the US popularized OBL and kept the hopes and motivational nodes of al-Qaeda operatives alive. Given the trend, it was not unfathomable if he had sympathizers inside Pakistani soil, who helped him to covertly live inside Pakistan.
The killing / arrest of OBL would have been a rejoicing event for both Pakistan and USA but the US preferred to take a solo flight to embarrass Pak Army and ISI. It’s immoral act created an atmosphere of mistrust and betrayal and took anti-Americanism to new heights. Blatant violation of sovereignty of Pakistan by US raiders deeply anguished the agitating civil society. Demand for reviewing relations with untrustworthy USA became louder. The shocking event created political and institutional turmoil inside Pakistan, and spread divisive themes among civil-military leadership. All this could have been avoided if the US had taken Pakistan into confidence and launched a joint operation or asked Pakistan to nab OBL at its own.
Rather than feeling remorseful, the US joined by western public opinion builders and international media leveled serious allegations against Pakistan. Former CIA’s Director Leon Panetta’s declaration that ‘either Pakistan was complicit or incompetent’ was said in bad taste and spoke of his deep-seated animus against Pakistan and its people. The word incompetence in reality matches US military and CIA and doesn’t suit Pakistan. Despite having preponderance of resources and superior firepower and technology, why couldn’t rag-tag al-Qaeda, not more than few hundred be defeated by US-NATO? CIA had established outposts in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as early as 2002 and had total freedom to operate throughout the length and breadth of the country. All the security agencies in Pakistan rendered complete assistance to CIA and FBI in their hunt for terrorists. If OBL was living in a rented compound in Abbottabad since 2005, why couldn’t CIA network trace him? Keeping these facts in mind, it is frivolous to assume that the most wanted man OBL was hidden in Abbottabad by the Army/ISI.
The US could justify a unilateral action to a certain degree in North Waziristan where it was urging Pakistan to launch an operation for quite some time and Pakistan had not obliged owing to its genuine constraints. It might have been justified to carryout unilateral helicopter assault in Abbottabad to get most wanted man OBL if Pakistan had ever shown reluctance in nabbing any al-Qaeda leader in the past. Given the excellent results achieved by Pakistan and sacrifices rendered in war on terror, the US act was immoral and deplorable, deserving severest condemnation. It amounted to stabbing the ally in the back.