Washington: Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf should be held accountable for his role in the search of Osama bin Laden, who was hiding within earshot of the country`s premier military academy for some three years while Musharraf led the country and its Army, former CIA officer Bruce Riedel has said.
“Whether clueless (his answer) or complicit about bin Laden`s hideout, Musharraf failed to bring justice to the world`s most-wanted man for years. We should press him for answers about his ineptitude, not look to him for answers about his country`s future,” Riedel wrote in a piece for The Daily Beast.
In 2001, Musharraf had promised the then US president George W Bush of Pakistan`s help in bringing bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda to justice.
While some al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheik Mohammed were caught, the “big fish, bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, were able to hide out in Pakistan throughout Musharraf`s era. Zawahiri and Omar are still hiding out in Pakistan,” Riedel noted.
The commandant at Kakul when bin Laden settled into his lair in Abbottabad, sometime in 2005 or 2006, was one of Musharraf`s closest aides, General Nadeem Taj, the ex-CIA official said, adding that Taj should have been well informed on all security issues in Abbottabad and keeping his boss in the loop.
“In his chatty memoirs published in 2006, Musharraf says the Army was looking for al Qaeda leaders in Abbottabad, so it was on their screen. He has also said he used to jog past the house bin Laden was hiding in,” said Riedel, who is author of the book ‘Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad’ and ‘The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future’.
In 2007, when Musharraf gave up his uniform after the Pakistani people demanded a return to democracy, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani took his place as Army chief.
“Taj became director general of the Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), replacing Kayani and thus had the top intelligence command for the hunt for bin Laden. Within a year, the Bush administration demanded Taj be removed because the ISI was warning al Qaeda terrorists in advance about drone strikes, and had helped the Taliban blow up India`s embassy in Kabul,” Riedel said.
“He was promoted to be a corps commander, one of the dozen or so top generals who run the country. A few weeks later, 10 Pakistani terrorists attacked the city of Mumbai, killing dozens including six Americans. We now know the ISI had helped train them and pick their targets,” he added.
Riedel said President Barack Obama wisely decided that the US could not tell Kayani that it had tracked bin Laden to Abbottabad, as he could not be trusted.
“Nor can we trust Musharraf. Americans and Pakistanis have every reason to ask Musharraf and his fellow generals hard questions about what they knew and when they knew it. We should also bear in mind Musharraf`s past when he pontificates for think tanks. Maybe his advice is a bit tarnished,” he concluded.