Pakistan’s military spy agency provided the lead that helped the US find and kill al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, prime minister Imran Khan said Monday.
This is the first time a serving Pakistani prime minister has admitted the country had knowledge of the whereabouts of America’s most wanted fugitive.
Pakistan has until now officially denied it had any knowledge of the whereabouts of bin Laden until he was shot dead in a raid by US special forces on 2 May 2011, an event that was viewed by some as a major national embarrassment for Islamabad and caused ties between the two countries to plummet.
India, however, did not take Islamabad’s claims of lack of knowledge seriously given that bin Laden was found living in the military town of Abbottabad, home to the Pakistan Military Academy and only 65km from Rawalpindi, the army’s headquarters.
Khan, who is currently on a visit to Washington, his first since taking office in August last year, made the disclosure in an interview with Fox News when he was asked whether Pakistan would release a jailed doctor whose faked door-to-door immunization drive for the US helped track and kill bin Laden.
“This is a very emotive issue, because Shakeel Afridi in Pakistan is considered a spy,” Khan said, referring to the doctor. “We in Pakistan always felt that we were an ally of the US and if we had been given the information about Osama bin Laden, we should have taken him out.”
Fox News then asked if Khan understood the scepticism around the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for leaking key information, to which Khan replied: “And yet, it was ISI that gave the information which led to the location of Osama bin Laden. If you ask CIA, it was ISI which gave the initial location through the phone connection.” It was not immediately clear what Khan was referring to and he did not provide more details.
Asad Durrani, a former spymaster, told Al Jazeera in 2015 that the ISI probably knew where he was hiding and hoped to use him as a bargaining chip before he was killed.
In his Fox News interview, Khan offered to release Afridi in exchange of neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year US prison sentence for shooting at FBI agents and American soldiers in Afghanistan, Press Trust of India news agency reported.
“So, we could negotiate some sort of swap,” Khan said.
© 2019 Mint (New Delhi)
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