Sunday, February 23, 2020

Who sneaked on Osama bin Laden?

Khaled Ahmed

Shuja Nawaz, currently a distinguished fellow, South Asia Centre at the well-known bipartisan think tank, the Atlantic Council, Washington, DC, has revealed additional secrets about the killing of Osama bin Laden in his book The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood (Liberty Publishing Lahore). Pakistan has always wondered about who sneaked on our friend Osama living peacefully in Abbottabad, and there are some “foreign” sources who kept hinting that someone from inside the military establishment had sneaked on him to the Americans “for money.” Let’s first take a sampling:

The first shocker came when the Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist Seymour Hersh made it public that a former Pakistani intelligence official had actually informed the Americans about the Abbottabad hideout of Osama bin Laden and that a former ISI official had provided the information about his hideout for $25 million in addition to US citizenship “with a new identity.” Who was the bloke?

It turned out that it was Brigadier Usman Khalid, a retired ISI officer, who got Dr Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani physician, to conduct a fake polio campaign in the Bilal Town area of Abbottabad to help the CIA hunt down Osama. Then on February 18, 2012, a Washington Post article by David Ignatius wrote: Former ISI chief General Ziauddin Butt, quoted in the Pakistani press, had said that Osama’s stay at Abbottabad was arranged by an official on General Musharraf’s orders during his tenure.

Butt repeated his claim in the February 2012 issue of the Newsweek magazine, in an online interview conducted by Bruce Riedel. Riedel quoted him as saying: “General Musharraf knew that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad.” Musharraf of course denied having any knowledge about Osama living in Pakistan during his tenure.

The New York Times had claimed in a March 2014 report that the US had direct evidence about “former ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha knowing bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad at the time.” The newspaper also quoted former ISI chief Gen Ziauddin Butt saying Musharraf had arranged to hide bin Laden in Abbottabad.

ISI chiefs who ‘came clean’

Then, more recently, an ex-ISI chief dropped a bombshell about Osama that greatly offended Pakistan. Ex-head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) General (r) Asad Durrani, talking to AS Dulat, India’s former special director of the Intelligence Bureau and former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) from 1999 to 2000, in the book Spy Chronicles (2017), came out with more details about how the Americans found that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad:

Durrani stated: “I have no doubt that a retired Pakistani officer who was in intelligence walked in and told the Americans. I won’t take his name because I can’t prove it and also I don’t want to give him any publicity. How much of the 50 million dollars he got, who knows? But he is missing from Pakistan. I should know.”

After this statement, Major General Asif Ghafoor, director of Inter-Services Public Relation (ISPR) of the media wing of the Pakistan Army, issued a statement saying: “Lt Gen Asad Durrani, retired, is being called to the GHQ on 28 May 2018. He will be asked to explain his position on views attributed to him in the book Spy Chronicles.”

Was it Lt. Col. Eqbal Saeed Khan instead?

So, was it Brigadier (r) Usman Khalid or not? Shuja Nawaz gives us a more detailed and credible version of what happened unless there was more than one Pakistani officer who sneaked for big money. This is how it goes:

Lt. Col. Eqbal Saeed Khan of ISI was the man according to Shuja Nawaz. Saeed was commissioned in the 4th War Course into the Pakistan Army. He did his intelligence staff course in 1993, and his colleagues recall him being “a bright guy and lively company.” He was known by his nickname, Bailee, a Punjabi equivalent of “buddy” in English. He was reportedly retired prematurely by the army chief for dealing in fake currency. Another report has him being passed over for promotion to brigadier and then prematurely retired.

“Col. Saeed, who ran a security firm in Islamabad, may have been responsible for providing logistic surveillance assistance to the Americans in tracking and locating movements related to what turned out to the final lair of bin Laden in Abbottabad. Col Saeed’s office in Abbottabad is reported to have been used as a listening and staging post. He is reported to have been recruited by Lt. Col. Hafeez, his predecessor at the helm of the 408 Intelligence battalion, who had been hired by the US, and according to one report, was even in the US, and CIA Director George Tenet once brought him to a meeting with Gen. Kayani.

“According to another senior retired ISI officer, Saeed may have been rewarded by the Americans for having kept mum about the final stages of the search for bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad. Another retired brigadier was also prominently mentioned in assisting the search for bin Laden, but no formal inquiries in Pakistan have been shared with the public. Indeed, the Abbottabad Commission that was set up by Pakistan to investigate the raid that killed bin Laden appeared to clear Col. Saeed. And a very senior military officer who spoke with me about a brigadier implicated in that case also indicated that they had not found much on him. The brigadier was not mentioned in the report.” So it was not Brigadier Usman Khalid after all?

So, was it Brigadier (r) Usman Khalid or not? Shuja Nawaz gives us a more detailed and credible version of what happened unless there was more than one Pakistani officer who sneaked for big money

Living it up in the US

Author Nawaz has more dirt on the Colonel: “Yet, Col. Saeed suddenly decamped from Pakistan immediately after the raid on Abbottabad, leaving behind an empty home in the DHA at Morgah, days before his child’s high-school exams and even as his second wife was reported to be recuperating from a medical procedure. The house was then disposed of by the manager of his security firm, according to a former colleague of the colonel.

He is living in San Diego, California, owns a $2.4-million home under his own name and also operates under the name Bailey (sic) Khan, a Western variation of his nickname, Bailee, in Pakistan. In May 2018, photographs emerged of the colonel and his wife enjoying their new life. A white BMW convertible with California licence plates is visible in some of the photos of the dapper colonel.”

What is riveting in Shuja Nawaz’s version is how Osama’s house came to be constructed.

“The ISI was also tracking a local person named Arshad and had established that he travelled once a month to Peshawar and bought medicines. It was during this period of inquiry that the ISI requested satellite surveillance by the CIA of the house on ‘Pathan Street’ in Bilal Town. Clues were the transcripts of wiretaps of conversations in Arabic between someone in Nowshera and later Peshawar, Waziristan, and finally the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad and someone in Saudi Arabia that the ISI shared with the CIA in 2009 and 2010. The information and location data in those wiretaps allowed the CIA to hone in on the compound and find bin Laden.”

What is revealed further by Shuja Nawaz is spellbinding. Osama lived in Abbottabad for six years – the ISI ostensibly knowing nothing about it – with his wives and 16 children aged six to eight years. If there was just one wife, she was sharing the house with two other women. Arshad, the Pashtun from Charsadda who died in the American attack, had bought a plot of 7 kanals and 5 marlas in 2004 for about Rs5 million, “at least 25 percent more than the value of property in that locality.”

In Shuja Nawaz’s words: “Bin Laden drew a sketch of the house-within-a-house that that would shelter him and his family as well as the Pakistani brothers who were his keepers and couriers. The site was considered safe for him and his family since it was far from the battlefront. Also, it turns out that the ISI did not have a permanent presence there till after the Libyan terrorist Al Libi was tracked to that town in the Nawan Shehr neighbourhood, not far from Bilal Town. The ISI team later grew in size. In February 2011, a terrorist Umer Patek, as Jaffer Alawi, a.k.a. Hisyamein Alazein (of Kuwaiti origin), implicated in the Bali bombing, was captured near Abbottabad. But even this did not raise an alarm at the ISI headquarters about a more important presence in the area.”

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