- Osama bin Laden was able to find refuge in Pakistan because mujahideen groups were viewed as “heroes,” the country’s leader, Imran Khan, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday.
- Bin Laden was shot dead by US Special Forces during an early morning raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan – close to a Pakistani military base – in May 2011.
- Khan said the US helped to train and arm the Islamist guerilla fighters groups to combat Soviet Russia in the 1980s, but “Pakistan was left with these groups” once the Soviets and US left the region.
- After 9/11, these previously highly touted groups of jihadis were cast as terrorists and Pakistani armed forces were ordered to “go after” them – something that not all in the security services agreed with.
- Bin Laden was able to avoid capture in Pakistan due to “linkages” within the army, Khan said, denying that Pakistani’s “military hierarchy had anything to do with it.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Osama bin Laden was able to find refuge in Pakistan, where he was ultimately killed in 2011, because mujahideen groups like al Qaeda weren’t always viewed as terrorists. If anything they were “heroes” in the past, the nation’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Khan was speaking to reporters at the summit on Wednesday when Insider Inc. Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Carlson asked his thoughts on the fact that bin Laden was killed at close proximity to a Pakistani military base and what that meant for US-Pakistan relations. Bin Laden was shot dead by US Special Forces during an early morning raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011, while President Barack Obama was in office.
In response to Carlson’s query, Khan retraced the history of the US government and CIA working with the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency in the ’80s to train and arm Islamist guerrilla fighters against Soviet Russia and the communist Afghan government.
“What happened was once the Soviets left, so did the US,” Khan said. “So Pakistan was left with these groups.”
Al Qaeda was only one among those mujahideen groups, Khan said, but they were “never considered terrorists.” Instead, said Khan, they were considered “heroes.”
To back his claim, Khan pointed – erroneously – to a famous Ronald Reagan quote: “These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of the founding fathers,” saying that he was referring to Pakistan’s mujahideen fighters. (Reagan was in fact referring to Nicaraguan Contra fighters.)
That hero worship came to an end after the 9/11 terror attacks and the US declared a “war on terror,” Khan said, because Pakistan’s government was then required to “go after” the mujahideen. They were cast as villains, not jihadis – something that the Pakistani security services were unable to unanimously get behind, he said.
“How would you suddenly tell them that now these guys are terrorists and go after them?” Khan asked. “And that’s where Pakistan suffered huge casualties because these groups turned against Pakistan.”
Bin Laden was able to avoid capture in Pakistan likely due to “linkages” within the army, Khan conceded. However, he denied that Pakistan’s “military hierarchy had anything to do with it,” adding that they were too “closely monitored” by the US to have been able to get away with that.
“Pakistan had everything to lose from Osama bin Laden being in Pakistan,” Khan said.
- Read more:
- Everything you need to know about Davos, the invitation-only conference that brings billionaires together with business and political leaders at a Swiss resort
- Billionaires and heads of state have descended on a ski town in Switzerland. Here’s what’s happening in Davos, explained in 60 seconds.
- A new PwC survey unveiled at Davos found CEOs are the most pessimistic they have ever been about the economy. The firm’s global chairman breaks down 4 big reasons why.
- 119 billionaires, 53 heads of state, and an $US8.3 million security bill: A look at Davos by the numbers