Local and international media converged on Islamabad on Thursday in anticipation of some startling revelations in the Abbottabad Commission’s investigations into the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal’s call for a press conference on Wednesday came amid rumours about the president resigning and a possible military coup, creating widespread panic and uncertainty in the country.
In an attempt not to give too much away, Justice Iqbal found himself dodging most of the questions thrown at him by the over-eager media.
The only cat he decided to let out of the bag was: the commission will complete its inquiry within a couple of weeks and submit its report to the government as soon as possible.
“We hope we’ll be able to complete the recording of the evidence by the end of December and will submit the report as soon as possible,” Justice Iqbal said during the press conference.
Staying in line with the general chaos in the country, the press conference on Thursday came at a time when investigations into the May 2 raid are still under way, causing many quarters to raise eyebrows at the purpose behind the commission head’s sudden call for a media briefing.
The commission will do its part, staying within its mandate, and submit the report to the government. However, whether or not the government makes that report public is up to them, Justice Iqbal said.
The commission has sent a questionnaire to President Asif Ali Zardari for his position as co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), however, being the head of state, he enjoys immunity under the inquiry commission’s laws, hence, whether or not he answers that questionnaire will be at his discretion, Justice Iqbal told the media.
Dodging a question thrown at him by a journalist inquiring whether the man killed in the raid was in fact Osama bin Laden, Justice Iqbal said, “If we told you that, it would give everything away.”
Things took a more interesting turn when a reporter told Justice Iqbal there was no need for him to tell the media anything about Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad because they already knew “everything there is to know” about it. “You don’t know anything. You will be shocked when you come to know,” Justice Iqbal snapped at the journalist.
The team is investigating whether Bin Laden had just stayed in Abbottabad or if he had stayed elsewhere in Pakistan as well, and is also looking into whether his killing was “legal” under international law, he said.
“As far as the international law is concerned, it is obvious that if he [OBL] was present there, he should have been caught alive,” he said, adding, “But the thing is, why did it happen like that? You will find all these answers in the report … regarding what the international law states and what our stance was and what is the US stand.”
Iqbal said the commission would like to examine the evidence collected from the compound by the US Navy SEALs, but it had not made a formal request so far.
“As far as the evidence is concerned, it’s in Arabic and according to US authorities, it may take more than six months to get it translated into English or some other language,” Justice Iqbal said.
The commission has completed its investigations concerning Bin Laden’s wives and children, who were left behind after the raid and the ban on their repatriation has also been lifted, he told the media.
The commission has also sent questionnaires to various political leaders and has summoned former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani to question him about how and why so many visas were issued to US nationals in the past few years.
To another question he confirmed that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hassan could also be called in over his reported statements that Pakistani authorities, both civilian and military, knew about the raid in advance.
The press conference came to an anticlimactic end with Justice Iqbal saying, “Our job is to determine circumstantial evidence leading to the incident. We will not recommend any punishment if anybody or any institute is found guilty.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2011.