Wednesday, 11 May 2011

US broke deal with Osama hit

US broke deal with Osama hit
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's military and intelligence community was fully aware of and lent assistance to the United States mission to get a high-value target in Abbottabad on May 2. What it did not know was that it was Osama bin Laden who was in the crosshairs of US Special Forces, and what angered the top brass even more was that Washington - in clear breach of an understanding - claimed sole ownership of the operation.

Over the years since Pakistan joined the US in the "war on terror" following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban, the US has conducted numerous covert operations - apart from unleashing the missiles of unmanned Predator drones on militant targets - deep inside Pakistan.

For instance, the Los Angeles Times reported on July 27, 2008, "On occasions, US Special Forces teams have been sent into

Pakistan. In 2006, one of the nation's most elite units, Seal Team 6, raided a suspected al-Qaeda compound at Damadola [in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas]."

Under this arrangement, the US would conduct raids against high-value targets and Pakistan would provide the necessary support, but Pakistan, for political reasons so that nobody would question that its sovereignty had been compromised, would claim responsibility for the raids.

Following the assassination of Bin Laden, though, within a few hours US President Barack Obama in an address to the American nation said that US Navy Seals had single-handedly conducted the operation.

The incident over Raymond Davis, a contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency, strained the understanding between Pakistan and the US over covert operations.

Davis killed two armed men in Lahore in January and although the US said he was protected by diplomatic immunity, he was jailed and charged with murder. He was released in March after the families of the two killed men were paid US$2.4 million in blood money. Judges acquitted him on all charges and Davis immediately departed Pakistan.

Pakistan then demanded a fresh agreement with the US that would better serve its strategic gains; it is already a major recipient of US aid and arms sales - approximately US$20 billion over the past decade. The Americans in turn wanted the continued right to undertake strikes, but specifically against high-value targets such as Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Bin Laden, his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and a leading figure in the Taliban resistance, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The US sent four warning letters to the Pakistan army through diplomatic channels in which it expressed its reservations on Pakistan's cooperation in finding high-value sanctuaries. Pakistan responded by asking for better economic deals and a greater role in the Afghan end game.

The demands on both sides were such that international players were called in to mediate. These included top Saudi authorities and Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shi'ite Ismaili community. They played a pivotal role in fostering a new strategic agreement of which the Abbottabad operation was a part. That is, Pakistan was on board but was kept in the dark over the target on the explicit understanding that it would take ownership.

The Saudis included ex-ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who had been sidelined for some years through illness and palace intrigue. He had helped resolve the Davis case and set the parameters for joint surgical strikes inside Pakistan against defiant al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders to pave the way for an end game in Afghanistan.

In the first week of April, the White House released a terror report charging Pakistan with being hand-in-glove with militants. Soon after, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, went to the US for a very short visit that according to the Associated Press centered on "intelligence cooperation". Security sources confirmed to Asia Times Online that the new security arrangement was high on the agenda.

Pasha, instead of returning directly to Pakistan, stopped over in Paris where he met the Aga Khan, and then proceeded to Turkey for talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who was in the country on an official visit, to appraise him of the new agreement.

In the last week of April, the US's top man in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, met with Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and informed him of the US Navy Seals operation to catch a high-value target. The deal was done.

Pakistan was therefore hugely stunned and embarrassed when Obama made his earth-shattering announcement taking all the credit for Osama's death.

In an address to parliament on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that unilateral actions such as the US's killing of Bin Laden ran the risk of serious consequences, but he reiterated his earlier stance that the US Special Forces had reached the compound of Bin Laden in Abbottabad with the help of the ISI.

But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made it clear that even if Pakistan asked for one, it would not receive an apology from the United States. "We obviously take the statements and concerns of the Pakistani government seriously, but we also do not apologize for the action that we took," Carney said.

Despite this setback, Asia Times Online contacts say the spat does not mean the end of operations - they will go on as agreed, with all credit taken by Pakistan.

"This relationship is too important to walk away from," Carney said this week.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of upcoming book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at

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