'Pakistan top agency helped US track down Bin Laden'

PM says Pakistan open for discussion regarding swap of Dr Shakeel Afridi with Dr Aafia Siddiqui

News Desk July 23, 2019
In this 1998 file photo made available on March 19, 2004, Osama bin Laden is seen at a news conference in Afghanistan. PHOTO: VOICE OF AMERICA

Pakistan's top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), provided the US with a lead that helped them find and kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden during their May 2011 raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Monday.

Imran Khan, who is visiting Washington on his first official trip, said this in an interview with Fox News when he was asked whether his country would release a jailed doctor Shakeel Afridi whose fake immunisation drive helped the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) track and kill Bin Laden.

"This is a very emotive issue, because Shakeel Afridi in Pakistan is considered a spy," he told host Bret Baier, referring to the doctor. "We in Pakistan always felt that we were an ally of the US and if we had been given the information about Osama Bin Laden, we should have taken him out."

Baier then asked if Imran Khan understood the skepticism around the ISI for leaking key information, to which he replied: "And yet it was ISI that gave the information which led to the location of Osama Bin Laden.  If you ask CIA it was ISI which gave the initial location through the phone connection."

The Al-Qaeda chief was tracked down after a 10-year manhunt to Abbottabad, a garrison town north of Islamabad where Pakistan's military academy is headquartered, causing embarrassment for Pakistan.

Imran Khan added: "Bear in mind that Pakistan was fighting the war for the US and Pakistan was attacked, but at the time it hugely embarrassed Pakistan. We were an ally of the US and the US didn't trust us and they actually came in and killed a man."

The prime minister also hinted at a possible prisoner swap agreement with the US in future and said it could discuss with the US exchange of Dr Aafia Siddiqui with Shakeel Afridi.

"It was not talked about today but in future we know that the United States wants Shakeel Afridi so we can negotiate. No negotiations have started but with Aafia Siddiqui we could negotiate," said Imran to the host, adding that the possibility of a prisoner swap agreement in future remained a viable option.

Imran categorically dismissed any 'concerns' about Pakistan's nuclear weapons, getting into the hands of terrorists.  Pakistan has one of the most professional armies; we have one of the most comprehensive command and control of our nuclear weapons.  They have absolutely no need to worry.

"The US knows about it because we share our intelligence with the US about the way we have the safety measures about our nuclear programme," he said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also ruled out possibility of any nuclear war between Pakistan and India, saying his country would give up its weapons, if its eastern neighbour did the same.

"Yes, because nuclear war is not an option. And between Pakistan and India, the idea of nuclear war is actually self-destruction, because we have two and a half thousand-mile border.

"Also, I think there's a realisation in the subcontinent and there was some incident that happened last February and we again had tension at the border. An Indian plane was shot down in Pakistan," the PM said while referring to the Indian violation of Pakistan's air space and bombing of a deserted hillside.

It was this very "realisation", Imran said, that he asked President Trump to play his role in resolution of Kashmir dispute. He said the US is the most powerful country in the world, the only country that could mediate between Pakistan and India, and the only issue is Kashmir.

The US President Donald Trump in his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Oval office had offered US mediation on the 70-year old Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also asked Trump to play such role on Kashmir.

When asked to comment on response from India's foreign ministry which said "no such request has been made by Prime Minister Modi", Imran Khan said: "I really feel that India should come on the table." He said the two countries have not been able to move ahead bilaterally.

He recalled that only on one occasion Indi's former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and president Musharraf did come close to a resolution, but since then, the two countries have been polls apart.

"The US could play a big part. President Trump certainly can play a big part. We're talking about 1.3 billion people on this Earth. Imagine the dividends of peace if somehow that issue could be resolved."

To a question about Iran wanting a nuclear weapon, Imran Khan said: "I can't say [...] but as a neighbour of Iran, we certainly hope that this [the recent tensions between Iran and the West] does not become a full-blown conflict."

"The last thing we want is a conflict in Iran, which will obviously affect us. Not just us, but it will affect oil prices, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia. We would do anything for a peaceful resolution." He said being a neighbour, Pakistan would love to help, if his country was asked.

When asked to react on remarks made by Trump regarding Afghanistan and clearing it out in ten days, the PM said there was no doubt that the US has the greatest firepower in the history of mankind, but said it would be devastating as the people of Afghanistan have suffered for decades.

"The last thing Afghanistan needs is violence. It needs peace. The Taliban should become a part of political process and then you would have a government which will be representative of the people of Afghanistan."

When asked whether the discussions with Taliban were productive, Imran said: "These were the most productive so far". He said the Taliban have gone furthest as the two sides come together. "Taliban is a localised movement, not some international terrorist movement."

He expressed the belief that a broad-based political government would be the best guarantee of peace in Afghanistan. When asked about the recent bombing in Pakistan, claimed by the local Taliban, Imran Khan said the danger is [there] of course for Pakistan, Afghanistan."

"If we do not have any sort of peace settlement in Afghanistan, the danger is of ISIS [Islamic State]. And ISIS is more of a danger not just to us, but to other countries also," he said.

When questioned about his meeting in the Oval Office and the ties with the US, Imran Khan said: "So I think we struck that understanding today. I came out feeling that we really are now allies. Both of us want peace in Afghanistan, and Pakistan will do everything possible to ensure that this peace process goes forward."

When asked about his interaction with Trump, Imran Khan said: "I was very happy with the meeting. I found President Trump to be refreshing in the sense that he is a straightforward person. No mixing, no juggling of words. He came out straight with things. My whole delegation loved the meeting."

With additional input from agencies


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