`Pak refused to help apprehend Osama before 9/11`
Last Updated: Friday, May 06, 2011, 11:57
  
Washington: As the discovery of al Qaeda chief in Pakistan raises fresh questions about US-Pakistan relations, newly released declassified documents have showed as early as 1998 American officials concluded that Islamabad "is not disposed to be especially helpful on the matter of terrorist Osama bin Laden".

The National Security Archive said that according to previously secret US documents, Pakistani officials repeatedly refused to act on the bin Laden problem, despite mounting pressure from American authorities.

Instead, in the words of a US Embassy cable, Pakistani sources "all took the line that the issue of bin Laden is a problem the US has with the Taliban, not with Pakistan."

The documents in this compilation -- part of the National Security Archive's developing Osama bin Laden File -- were obtained by the Archive through the Freedom of Information Act.

They reveal a history of "disappointment that Pakistan ... a good friend of the US, was not taking steps to help with Osama bin Laden (UBL)."

The National Security Archive said as an ally to both the Taliban and the United States, Pakistan was balancing conflicting policies towards the bin Laden question.

Islamabad continued to support the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, an organisation protecting the al Qaeda leader, while simultaneously promising US leaders it was "taking the bin Laden matter very seriously" and would cooperate with US counterterrorism efforts.

Portending momentous events to come, US officials in 1998 lamented that getting Pakistani help in apprehending bin Laden would be "an uphill slog".

In a cable dated May 29, 1999, as Taliban "charge d'affaires" Syedur Rahman Haqqani describes Osama bin Laden as a "bomb" waiting to explode, US government officials grow increasingly frustrated with Pakistani and Taliban officials who have little to offer on the issue of Osama bin Laden.

Although both Taliban and Pakistani authorities are reportedly courteous to US diplomats, the embassy expects little, if any, action to result.

The Pakistani government reiterated that it "was taking the bin Laden matter very seriously," while admitting that officials are in fact "preoccupied" with a very different issue "the recent increase in Indo-Pakistani tensions over Kashmir."

Less than a year before September 11, 2001, US Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering meets with Pakistani officials to press Islamabad on the bin Laden question, according to a November 20, 2000 cable.

Pickering "opened the meeting by expressing disappointment that Pakistan, whom he called a good friend of the US, was not taking steps to help with Osama bin Laden." Underscoring the discrepancy between what Taliban officials say and do, Pickering rejects Pakistan's oft-repeated claims that "engagement was the only way to change the Taliban's behaviour."

The US, he says, is going to pursue harsher measures, including sanctions. America "would always act to protect US interests at a time and place of its own choice," he adds.

In the coming months, Islamabad would continue to defend the Taliban regime, but due to the increasing violence associated with al Qaeda's anti-American activities, the US had very little faith in Taliban claims that bin Laden posed no threat.

Following a meeting between the US President Bill Clinton and Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif in Washington on December 2, 1998, the US Embassy in Islamabad is getting the clear impression the Government of Pakistan "is not disposed to be especially helpful on the matter of terrorist Osama bin Laden."

In a cable dated December 18, 1998, the State Department, Islamabad Embassy officials report that various Pakistani sources "all took the line that the issue of bin Laden is a problem the US has with the Taliban, not with Pakistan".

Islamabad is loath to involve itself in America's campaign to get bin Laden.

Citing a December 18 news article by a journalist with connections to Pakistani intelligence, the cable notes that the opinion expressed in the article that Pakistan does "not want to have anything to do with Washington's anti-Osama crusade" reflects the general opinion of Pakistani officials at that time.

The embassy says it will continue to try to convince Pakistan to help in the pursuit for bin Laden but adds that "it's an uphill slog".

Further the day after US missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan in response to al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the then president Bill Clinton calls Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif.

Despite the "cordial" nature of their conversation, a senior State Department official reports in a cable dated August 21, 1998 that Islamabad has "decided to take a hard line against the strikes".

Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl F Inderfurth states that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has called American officials to "protest the illegality of the US action," and adds that he does "not expect the negative Pakistani reaction to subside".

According to Inderfurth's memo, the Sharif government "operates in an environment dominated by conspiracy theories and paranoia," and remains unlikely to defend Washington.

The reason for Islamabad's lack of support for US actions may be rooted in the complexity of Pakistani politics, according to the memo.

Embassy personnel believe the Sharif government cannot condemn bin Laden without alienating key social and political groups in Pakistan, noting that, "The most sincere reaction of the government of Pakistan to the bin Laden strikes is exasperation at the unneeded difficulties this event has created for them in dealing with their domestic political situation, and in particular, in keeping the religious parties happy and relatively off the street."

PTI


First Published: Friday, May 06, 2011, 11:57


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