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'ISI controlled Osama's Abbottabad compound'

By Lalit K Jha
April 28, 2016 13:55 IST
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The Abbottabad hideout of Osama bin Laden was under Inter-Services Intelligence control and a Pakistan Army doctor treated the most dreaded terrorist in the world before he was killed in a daring raid by United States commandos in 2011, according to a new book.

In fact, the doctor Amir Aziz, of the rank of major, who lived in a compound near bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, was rewarded by the Central Intelligence Agency with a share of the $25 million bounty the US had put up because a DNA sample had conclusively proved the Al Qaeda leader’s identity.

In his latest book, ‘The Killing of Osama bin Laden’, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claims that ISI got hold of bin Laden in 2006 after paying bribes to some of the tribal leaders. At the time he was said to be very ill.

“Early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment,” Hersh claims, basing his account on a conversation he had with an unidentified retired Pakistan Army official.

And all this while the Pakistani leadership in particular the army chief and ISI boss repeatedly told the US that they did not know the whereabouts of bin Laden.

“It’s understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI’s strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul.

“The Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir,” Hersh said in his book that hit stores early this month.

“The Pakistanis also know that their trump card against aggression from India is a strong relationship with the United States. They will never cut their person-to-person ties with us,” a senior retired army official is quoted as saying.

Hersh claims that the CIA came to know about bin Laden’s hideout from a senior Pakistani intelligence official who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US.

The said official is now living near Washington along with his family.

Hersh said his information collected from US intelligence and other sources was vetted by former ISI head Asad Durrani. “When your version comes out -- if you do it -- people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,” Durrani told Hersh.

“For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode,” he said.

As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by “people in the ‘strategic community’ who would know” that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’ betrayed promises left then army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha exposed, Hersh said.

The US journalist quotes a retired Pakistani general that the ISI kept bin Laden at Abbottabad because of its proximity to military installations so that he could be kept under constant surveillance.

“The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained,” he wrote.

“Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,” the retired official said, “to keep him under constant supervision”.

According to Hersh, the retired Pakistani official told him that Pasha offered the Americans a blunt explanation of the reason Pakistan kept bin Laden’s capture a secret, and why it was imperative for the ISI’s role to remain secret.

“We needed a hostage to keep tabs on Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” Pasha said, according to the retired official.

“The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and Al Qaeda activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to the US. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay,” Hersh wrote.

Hersh claimed that Kayani and Pasha agreed to cooperate secretly with the US only after receiving assurances that they would get a free hand in Afghanistan and there would be more flow of military aid from the US.

“Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission,” the retired official is quoted as saying.

“He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and a few local commanders. Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,” the retired official said.

“Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder,” he said.

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Lalit K Jha
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