The undeclared Pak mission - Behind feverish disclaimers lie clues to Islamabad's co-operation with US in killing Osama

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  • Published 4.05.11

San Francisco, May 3: There has been a coup d’etat in Pakistan. A quiet one. But it is a coup that may change the course of history not only in South Asia but in the entire Islamic ummah or community.

By giving up Osama bin Laden, the Pakistan Army’s wildest trump card in the cat-and-mouse game between Islamabad and Washington that reached a critical point when CIA contractor Raymond Davis was arrested, factions in the Pakistani establishment which seek a continued alliance with the US have displaced those who want Pakistan to be part of a global Islamic resurgence.

It was a cat-and-mouse game between Langley, the CIA headquarters, and Rawalpindi, seat of the Pakistan Army General Headquarters, which began with the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 when the Americans, foolishly trusting Gen. Pervez Musharraf then, enabled the Inter-Services Intelligence to facilitate the safe passage of Osama from the Tora Bora mountains through deceit.

The Americans were to regret their foolishness for a whole decade.

The arrest of Davis in January for killing two men who were widely believed to have been ISI agents, the arrest of at least one other CIA contractor, the denial of visas to American “diplomats” by Pakistan, the near breaking point in ties between the ISI and the CIA — all made it necessary for Pakistan to choose between being dumped by the US for needling them in Afghanistan using its proxies or extending their full and unstinted co-operation to Washington in return for continued military and other assistance.

The army faction that supports a deep alliance with the US has won out and proved its loyalty to Washington.

Contrary to the carefully cultivated perception in Washington and Islamabad about the fallout of killing Osama, a new phase in the US-Pakistan security alliance has been sealed in Abbottabad with the blood of the Saudi billionaire-turned-terrorist.

The best accounts of the operation which killed bin Laden are not to be found in the US media, which is behaving as if it is embedded with the CIA like American journalists were with the US forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and swallowed army propaganda for which newspapers like The Washington Post later apologised.

Revealing details about Sunday’s Abbottabad operation are to be found in the Chinese media, especially China’s official news agency, Xinhua, which has no pretensions to media freedom unlike its American counterparts.

The Chinese have the best sources in Pakistan, given the all-weather friendship between Islamabad and Beijing.

Xinhua says electricity was cut off to Abbottabad as the operation to kill Osama began. That shows complicity with the Americans not only within the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi but down the line to the local administration that controls the electricity switching stations.

Xinhua says security forces cordoned off the entire area near Osama’s safe house before the Americans attacked it and no one was allowed to enter or leave the operational surroundings during the attack.

That only means the Pakistanis knew what was going to take place, although it is only logical that reasons for sealing off the area would not have been communicated down the line to the local police or paramilitary units.

Xinhua also says residents of Abbottabad took videos and cellphone pictures from their rooftops as the spectacular helicopter landing and firefight was under way.

But Pakistani security forces went round from house to house collecting memory cards from cameras and seizing videos from residents soon enough so that the pictures were not transmitted freelance by what modern TV would call citizen journalists.

All this could not have been organised by the Pakistanis after the event, which means, circumstantially, that the killing of Osama was a well co-ordinated US-Pakistani operation down to local ward-level in Abbottabad.

Besides, Abbottabad is the seat of a brigade of the second division of Pakistan’s Northern Army Corps and several other sensitive army establishments, including a key military training academy.

Metaphorically, even a fly cannot circle the skies of that city without escaping the attention of the defence network that guards Abbottabad.

It is for this reason and to keep up the fiction that the US and Pakistan did not co-operate in killing Osama that an official statement was issued in Islamabad today that “US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain”.

The statement added that “US helicopters’ undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the... efficacious use of latest technology and ‘nap of the earth’ flying techniques”.

At the same time, the Pakistan Army did not want its people to lose faith in Rawalpindi as the guardian of their country’s borders and their defence.

Hence, a paragraph in the statement which asserts that “it may not be realistic to draw an analogy between this undefended civilian area and some military (and) security installations which have elaborate local defence arrangements”.

But to think that American helicopters carrying heavily armed personnel who attacked Osama’s hideout could have violated Abbottabad’s air space without help from Pakistan is pure fiction that is meant for the masses who are vulnerable to jihadi sermons in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Inflaming those masses could mean difficulties for the Americans everywhere.

But it is true that “Abbottabad and the surrounding areas have been under sharp focus of intelligence agencies since 2003, resulting in highly technical operation by ISI which led to the arrest of high-value al Qaida target in 2004”, as the statement claims.

Of the greatest significance, however, is the revelation in the statement that “as far as the target compound is concerned, ISI has been sharing information with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009. The intelligence flow indicating some foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad, continued till mid-April 2011”.

The Pakistani statement is remarkable for its candour between the lines because it is admitting that in April 2011, the ISI stopped sharing information about Osama with the Americans because of strains between their respective intelligence outfits.

As a result, the Americans had to put off their plans to kill or capture bin Laden in mid-April, plans which began when Pakistan shared that intelligence from 2009, because the operation could not be undertaken without Islamabad’s full support.

The internal power struggles in the Pakistani establishment were resolved when it was decided that not only will intelligence co-operation be revived but also that to make up with the Americans, they would sacrifice Osama.

That is tantamount to a coup within Pakistan which paves the way for stronger, better and deeper ties between Pakistan and the US, belying Indian hopes to the contrary.

The Pakistani statement truthfully claims that “reports about US helicopters taking off from Ghazi airbase are absolutely false and incorrect”. The US has enough capabilities for an operation of this kind not to want to use Pakistan’s military facilities.

All it needed was logistics support and unimpeded passage into Abbottabad.

There is irony in the portion of the statement which says the “CIA and some other friendly intelligence agencies have benefited a great deal from the intelligence provided by ISI. ISI’s own achievements against al Qaida and in the war on terror are more than any other intelligence agency in the world”.

There is a ring of truth in it with their sacrifice of their biggest trump card in dealings with the US, namely the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama.

And finally, some window dressing: “The Government of Pakistan expresses its deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the Government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorisation from the Government of Pakistan.”