It was 1:00 am, May 2, 2011.
Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s phone rang.
It was his director of military operations. The news was alarming: a helicopter had just crashed near a residential compound in Abbottabad – a region of the country that is thick with military installations and nuclear weapons facilities.
General Kayani called the head of the Pakistani Air Force and ordered him to intercept anyone who might be flying that night. Two US manufactured F-16s were scrambled from their base 500 miles southwest of Abbottabad, but the jets could not find the intruders.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama called President Asif Ali Zardari and told him the gripping news. Zardari became emotional and replied: “I am happy because these are the same types of people who killed my wife, and her people are my family, so I share in this.”
Then US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen finally got through to General Kayani on a secure line. Kayani’s response was not much different from President Zardari’s.
“Congratulations,” Kayani immediately said upon hearing news. However, the discussion lasted a tense 20 minutes in which the army chief said he was concerned about the violation of Pakistani sovereignty and urged that Obama go out as soon as possible and explain what had happened.
This is American journalist Peter Bergen’s account of the infamous Abbottabad incursion by US SEALs which killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his recently-published book ‘Manhunt: From 9/11 to Abbottabad – The Ten-Year Search for Osama Bin Laden’.
Bergen claims in his book – basing his account on interviews with Pakistani intelligence officers – that Pakistan’s top military and civilian leadership were initially clueless about what was happening until US officials informed them that the Abbottabad operation was conducted against Bin Laden.
Bergen also claims that General Kayani asked himself, “How could my friend Admiral Mullen not have told me about the raid?” General Kayani and Mullen have rarely spoken since, the book mentions.
According to the book, when the US SEALs conducted the secret raid on the night of May 1, Pakistani military leadership assumed it was an attempt by India to take a ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.
Bergen raises some heavy questions: If the Navy SEALs could waltz into the heart of Pakistan without the military noticing or doing anything about it, what did this say about the army’s ability to protect its crown jewels, its nuclear weapons, from seizure by Indian forces, or even the American military?
The author of the book writes that General Kayani and then spymaster General Ahmad Shuja Pasha’s jobs seemed to hang in balance, as they were losing support from both inside the army and from Pakistanis in general. He claims that General Kayani was worried that the army’s image could shatter and he told his closest colleagues that this was the “worst week of his life”.
General Pasha, according to the book, had communicated to US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that if the CIA didn’t trust the Pakistani government or military with some matter of great importance, at least inform him, General Kayani or President Zardari, so that Pakistanis could be able to save face by truthfully saying that they had been informed beforehand.
On May 3, Panetta told Time magazine what White House officials had discussed in their private deliberations: “It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission. They might alert the targets.”
Bergen says the manhunt to kill Osama was the most expensive manhunts of all time.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2012.