By S. M. Hali
British journalist Carlotta Gall, of the New York Times, in her book The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014, has rekindled sparks of controversy, claiming that Pakistan had harboured Osama bin Laden. The May 2, 2011 raid by US Navy SEALs on bin Laden’s residence at Abbottabad has been discussed threadbare by international and Pakistani media and investigated by an independent judicial commission appointed by the Government of Pakistan. The US government, its various agencies and parliamentary organs have probed the matter painstakingly. Various other books by more informed and directly concerned officials have presented intricately scrutinized analysis of the incident and have vindicated Pakistan’s position that its officials were not privy to the hideout of the “world’s most wanted person” Osama bin Laden.
Interestingly, Carlotta Gall has sourced her “startling revelation” to Lt. Gen. (retired) Talat Masood, quoting his deduction from a TV interview of former President General Musharraf. This scribe knows General Talat Masood personally and directly inquired of him. Masood admitted that he did mention an interview by a local TV channel, in which the anchor person asked General Musharraf if he was aware of Bin Laden’s hideout. Masood opined to Carlotta that Musharraf should have denied the charge vehemently. This comment has been misconstrued by Ms. Gall as Musharraf being privy to the location of Bin Laden’s lair.
Some other extracts of Carlotta’s book, released on April 8, 2014, published as a prelude to the launch, have also created ripples; especially at a time when former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is being tried for treason.
It is not clear why Carlotta Gall, who has won accolades for her investigative journalism in the past, would stoop so low as to present fiction for fact without adequate evidence. Some examples of her readiness to jump to conclusions from the curtain raiser to her new book are that: The organizers of insurgencies in Afghanistan are in Pakistan (Quetta) and they are well protected by ISI; 95% of Taliban fighting in Afghanistan are educated and trained in Haqqania Madrassa in Akora Khattak. Pakistan’s strategy is to show cooperation with America’s fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. The Red Mosque stood at the centre of Pakistan’s support for Jihad in Afghanistan and throughout Muslim world. President Karzai warned Benazir Bhutto that his intelligence service had learned of threats against her life. Musharraf and his ten most powerful Generals discussed a militant plot to kill Bhutto. Same forces were behind insurgency in Afghanistan and killing of Bhutto i.e. Taliban, Pakistan militant groups, Al-Qaeda and Pakistan Military establishment. US has direct evidence that ISI Chief General Pasha knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. From his residence in Abbottabad, Bin Laden was in regular correspondence with Hafiz Saeed and Mullah Omar. Qari Saifullah Akhtar is considered a valuable asset of ISI. Militants from Punjab are massing in the tribal areas to join Taliban and are trained for anticipated offensive into Afghanistan this year. General (R) Ziauddin Butt (The ISI chief who was being ushered through the backdoor by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to replace Musharraf) informed that Musharraf had arranged hideout for Bin Laden in Abbottabad.
Various international sources have come forward to refute Ms. Gall’s surmise regarding Pakistan and bin Laden. Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security Analyst and author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden—From 9/11 to Abbottabad, in his Op-Ed ‘Pakistan sheltered Bin Laden? Prove it’ challenges two of Ms. Gall’s claims. Firstly that “the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” Secondly that “The ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle bin Laden.” Basing his assertion on direct inquiries from CIA Director Leon Panetta, US Secretary of State, Chairman US Joint Chiefs’ of Staff and Director of National Counter Terrorism Center, Peter Bergen rejects Ms. Gall’s claims. He emphasizes that in 2011 Pak-US relations were at their lowest ebb and the US officials would have nothing to lose by saying that bin Laden was being protected by the Pakistanis if it were true. He also points towards the fact that bin Laden’s identity was kept hidden even from some of the inmates of the compound he was residing at for over six years.
Cameron Munter, then US Ambassador to Pakistan and US officials monitoring communications in Pakistan have concluded that the Pakistanis had not had a clue about bin Laden’s presence there. Munter has also dismissed the allegations stating that US forces took tons of evidence from bin Laden’s compound but found no proof of Pakistan’s complicity.
Carlotta Gall’s title for her book may be a misnomer; the real enemy being “ignorance” and “rumour-mongering” and not Pakistan as she alleges surreptitiously.