June Issue 2015
Interview: Ayesha Siddiqa
Do you think Seymour Hersh is correct in saying Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden was in the country?
I don’t think it’s just Seymour Hersh saying that. Asad Durrani, who is one of the major sources of the Hersh story, also said that to Al-Jazeera. If you look at some of the other indictators, it shows we knew. Why was there no reaction from the air force during the raid? If you look at the leaked commission report, the air chiefs say we had weak radar cover. Okay, fair enough. But then you have a helicopter which crashed and surely there would have been a huge bang, and then they flew back with Osama bin Laden’s body. Do we not have radar cover inside the country? Nobody reacted to it. If we didn’t know anything, there should have been some reaction. I also believe this is a very Pakistan-military friendly story. What the story is saying is that the military is not incompetent, but that it was colluding and cooperating all along.
Were we helping the US, which might explain why they were able to come in undetected? And helping the US does not necessarily mean we were sheltering Osama.
But it doesn’t disprove Hersh’s theory either. Why would we allow the Americans to come and conduct an operation inside this country? They’ve demanded other people in the past as well. For example, they wanted Rashid Rauf. He was behind the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and was behind three potential attacks, but we shielded him. If the US had told us Osama was in Abbottabad, we would have gone after him. You don’t allow a third country to come in. We caught Aimal Kansi and had him extradited. We didn’t let anyone come in on their own.
What reason would we have for sheltering Osama. Would it be ideological or strategic?
Strategic. I have my doubts that a large number of people knew about it. As Asad Durrani said — and he is not a random person; he still has ties to the intelligence in some capacity — it was not that many people. He met all the players and was speaking with organisational confidence.
If we did keep Osama for strategic reasons, what, if anything, did we end up gaining?
Pakistan was considered an inconsequential player in Afghanistan and its future two or three years ago. Now it’s been agreed across the board that Pakistan will be a player there. So that’s a strategic gain. That’s what we want.
It looks like we ended up losing both ways. The militants kept attacking us and ties with the US are worse than ever.
You’re mixing apples and oranges. Our aim isn’t to make us safe and secure. This is just collateral damage to the army. That’s a different subject. Continuing to be attacked by militants is a different subject matter. Osama is Al-Qaeda and we have supported the Afghan Taliban. Strategically we have tried to protect the Afghan Taliban. The TTP and other splinter groups are a different matter. So it’s like asking why have we been protecting Dawood Ibrahim.
This interview was originally published in Newsline’s June 2015 issue.
Ayesha Siddiqa is a defence analyst.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.