June Issue 2015
Interview: Ayaz Amir
Do you think Seymour Hersh is correct in saying Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden was in the country?
That is a leading question, but all I can say is that Seymour Hersh bases his 10,000-word story on a single source. There is a lot of detail about the collaboration between the US and Pakistan, but it all depends on a single source. If one is inclined to believe single-source stories, then it is alright, but I really can’t say whether he is right or wrong.
What would your own opinion be on what Pakistan knew about OBL and his whereabouts?
When the Abbottabad saga broke, all of us were asking ‘how the hell could anyone be staying in Abbottabad of all places — a mile or so away from the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) — with no one knowing?’ That’s hard to believe. That was our gut response. But unless we have a smoking gun — direct credible evidence — we can’t say anything with certainty.
If we did know, what reason would we have had for sheltering Osama or not telling the US about him?
Seymour Hersh gives a reason, but it sounds implausible — it doesn’t make sense. He says General Pasha was asked “why did you hold him here?” and Pasha replied, “We wanted to hold something against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They (Al Qaeda) were carrying out a terror campaign against Pakistan at that time. Military installations had been attacked. Key targets like Kamra Airbase, the GHQ and so on were all being attacked.” But what good was it really doing us to keep Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad as a counterweight — what were we achieving? I don’t know. Intelligence operatives say a target like Osama would not be given away without a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t make sense to me.
Had Osama been given up to the US in a quid pro quo as some people contend, what did we end up getting from the Americans in return? After the Abbottabad raid things just got worse with the US…
No, we got nothing. Did we extract any concessions from the Taliban? Did they go soft on us? Did they stop cutting the throats of our soldiers? No. What use was Osama bin Laden to us? These theories can be stretched and you can say in war such games are played. It was a high-risk game for Osama to be kept in Abbottabad for so long.
Conversely, if we didn’t know OBL was in Pakistan, as conventional wisdom holds, how could he have stayed there for so long without being detected by the intelligence agencies? Isn’t that a complete intelligence failure?
It is a failure and it isn’t a failure. The Americans got no wind of the 9/11 attacks. The perpetrators were all there, in the US, they were all getting training, and they were all becoming ace pilots. There was a lot of clutter and clatter on the intelligence airwaves that something was happening, but no one picked it up in the US. People in the US administration were saying that Al-Qaeda was a serious threat, but Condoleezza Rice and her National Security Council took no notice of it. Of course they tried to cover it up afterwards, but they knew nothing at the time. So that too was an intelligences failure. So was this, but the terror network in Pakistan is spread so far and wide that many things go undetected.
How likely is it for the US to be able to breach our airspace without our knowledge?
Seymour Hersh says that Kayani and Pasha told everyone to look the other way when the Americans came in. That’s his assertion and it’s a very big assertion that they were part of the planning. But when the hijacked aircraft took off on 9/11 and they deviated from their respective courses, the entire American radar network failed to catch them. That plane’s flight path was from Point A to B, but instead it was going somewhere else, yet they failed to pick it up. So the world’s most sophisticated radar network failed.
With both the official version or Seymour Hersh’s story, Pakistan comes off looking really bad, either for its intelligence failures or for complicity. How do we prevent either of those scenarios from occurring again?
This was a huge embarrassment, but the other part of the Hersh story is that there was a walk-in in the US embassy who told them about Osama’s location. If there was a walk-in who knew, then how many others also knew? That’s the murky part of the story. Was Osama here with the knowledge of top intelligence officials? And if they knew about Osama, were they operating as lone rangers? That is what we need to know.
This interview was originally published in Newsline’s June 2015 issue.
Ayaz Amir is a journalist and senior politician.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.