Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid in May 2011 has written that Seymour Hersh “clearly does not know how Pakistan works.”
In an op-ed for Foreign Policy, Husain Haqqani asserts that investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s version of events regarding Pakistan’s role in and knowledge of the raid “simply do not add up.”
Even so, Haqqani’s version of events, along with his sensitive position promoting Islamabad’s interests in Washington at the time of bin Laden’s death, raises intriguing questions about what actually happened in Abottabad.
In an much-discussed 10,000-word London Review of Books article, Hersh claims that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was harboring bin Laden for five years before a Pakistani defector walked into the American embassy in Islamabad and gave up the location of al Qaeda’s leader in exchange for most of a $US25 million US reward.
The raid, Hersh alleges, was not a unilateral covert operation. Instead, it was fully backed by Pakistan’s army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha — but only because the US threatened to expose that they’d been sheltering bin Laden if they did not cooperate.
This story, Haqqani alleges, “borders on fantasy,” since in the former ambassador’s view, Hersh offers no viable explanation for why Pakistan’s generals would go along with the raid without wanting some kind of credit for their role.
“If a backroom deal had been negotiated to secure Pakistani cooperation in the raid on Abbottabad in return for US silence, the ISI would have demanded some glory for its cooperation,” Haqqani writes. “Facilitating the raid, as narrated by Hersh, would have provided Pakistan’s military and ISI an opportunity to redeem themselves in American eyes.”
“My instructions were clear”
Haqqani emphasises there there is no evidence that the ISI knew about the bin Laden raid.
“Nothing in the conduct of Generals Kayani and Pasha (both of whom later forced me to resign as ambassador) hinted at their collusion with the US in the Abbottabad raid,” Haqqani writes.
He also argues that Kayani and Pasha were embarrassed and wanted to “ensure that there would be no reprisals against Pakistan over allegations of official complicity in hiding bin Laden.”
That’s where Haqqani’s special position came into play. He says he was on his way back to Islamabad when the raid occurred on May 2, 2011, and his superiors sent him back to DC immediately to do damage control.
“My instructions were clear: to ensure that the US government, Congress, and the media did not blame Pakistan’s government, armed forces, or intelligence services for allowing Osama bin Laden’s presence in the country, as that would have been a violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1373,” Haqqani writes. “My bosses, both civilian and military, were obviously concerned that Pakistan would be taken to task.”
So who harbored bin Laden?
Haqqani concedes that it is clear someone in Pakistan protected bin Laden from 2006-2011. The question is whether bin Laden’s protectors were working within Pakistan’s government and security services — and if so, which part of it.
Hersh, for his part, cites the work of New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall, who wrote in March 2014 that, according to a Pakistani official, “the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.”
This week, Gall wrote that she “learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset.”
Haqqani says he asked for a full inquiry into why Pakistani intelligence services were not able to find bin Laden in their own backyard. He never heard back. But he adds that the Obama administration did not push Islamabad to answer questions about bin Laden’s life in Pakistan.
Haqqani concludes that “the failure of both Washington and Islamabad to disclose a more complete understanding of what transpired in the years leading up to the raid” led to conspiratorial stories like Hersh’s.
While it would be helpful for the public to know about bin Laden’s support network in Pakistan, Haqqani writes, it “might not be in either Islamabad’s or Washington’s interest to wake sleeping dogs.”
Business Insider has reached out to Haqqani and will update the post if he replies.
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