Almost three weeks before Osama bin Laden was killed by a US military raid in Abbottabad, the heads of Pakistan and US intelligence agencies spent most of their meetings talking about the whereabouts of the world’s most wanted man during their discussions at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia on April 11.
At the time, the media had reported that the visit of Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Inter-Services Intelligence, to the US was meant to repair ties with the CIA, which had then been damaged due to the arrest of an American intelligence operative over the killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore.
However, Pakistani security officials have now disclosed that a large part of that four-hour long meeting between Lt Gen Pasha and CIA chief Leon Panetta was dedicated to the al Qaeda chief and his whereabouts.
When those discussions were taking place, Pasha had little clue that the CIA already knew the location of Bin Laden’s hideout and was planning to eliminate him, they said.
At the marathon discussions, Panetta asked Pasha about the whereabouts of the al Qaeda leader. “He (Osama) could be hiding anywhere,” was Pasha’s reply.
The CIA chief wanted a more specific answer. The ISI chief said Osama might be hiding in any urban area, but did not have any further details.
“Had the ISI knew about his whereabouts we would have tracked him down,” said a security official, who was privy to the discussions.
The official said Pasha told Panetta that the ISI was second to none when it comes to the human intelligence but the CIA had the advantage of having ‘superior technology.’
In its first-detailed reaction to the killing of Bin Laden in a US commando raid, Pakistan on May 3 said the ISI had been sharing information with the CIA indicating some foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad from March 2009 to April 2011.
“It is important to highlight that, taking advantage of superior technological assets, the CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden,” the statement said.
Some unconfirmed media reports also claimed that the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies knew about the US operation in advance and the meeting between Pasha and Panetta was meant to finalise that plan.
But the government strongly denies such reports, saying Pakistan was not consulted in advance and it was a covert operation.
Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who spoke to military officers recently about the Abbottabad operation, said he did not know about the US raid in advance.
“We had a very candid and open discussion with the army chief and it was clear that the US operation was also shocking for him as well,” said a military officer, who attended one such gathering.
Requesting not to be named, he said a young military officer had made a ‘stinging’ comment before the army chief: “Sir, I am ashamed of what happened in Abbottabad.”
“So am I,” was General Kayani’s reply.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2011.