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'Osama in Pak was our incompetence'

May 08, 2011 05:07 PM IST India India

Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. Nothing could be more embarrassing for Pakistan than the fact that Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad for perhaps five years before being killed in a stealth operation by US Navy SEAL commandos. With me to answer the many questions that arises, the countries former President and former army chief General Pervez Musharraf.

Karan Thapar: General Musharraf, let's start with the fact that Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan. Would you accept that it is deeply embarrassing that he was living in Abbottabad a mile or so from the Pakistan military academy and just about an hour drive from the capital Islamabad?

Pervez Musharraf: It is about one and a half-two hours drive away from Islamabad. But yes it is indeed embarrassing.

Karan Thapar: Now, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, French Foreign Minister, said Pakistan must explain what Osama bin Laden was doing in Pakistan. Do you believe Pakistan owes the world an explanation?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, I think more than the world Pakistan needs an explanation to itself that how did this incompetence and failure occur? I think we should answer that to ourself first and nobody has the right to start demanding from Pakistan first.

Karan Thapar: But you are saying that the Pakistan government needs to tell it's own people how what you call an incompetent situation happened.

Pervez Musharraf: Well yes we need to find out ourselves, because I strongly believe that is incompetence and not complicity. Therefore we need to find out who is incompetent and we need to bring those people who are involved in any form, in intelligence in that city Abbottabad or around Kakul need to explain to Pakistan authorities.

Karan Thapar: So, you are calling for a full open transparent and honest account from the Pakistan government to the Pakistan people?

Pervez Musharraf: Well yes, investigate. Let the people know, let Pakistan know and let the world know because here accusations are certainly there that there was complicity. But I reject that theory, I reject it because of certain facts that President Obama has thanked our intelligence agencies, who facilitate leading to the target. So why has he thanked them?

Karan Thapar: Let's then General Musharraf come to some key questions that arise. The first key question is that, did the Pakistan authority know that Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad and were they happy for him to continue there or were they unaware and therefore ignorant?

Pervez Musharraf: I'm reasonably sure or very sure that they were unaware.

Karan Thapar: Are you absolutely confident on that. That they had no idea whatsoever?

Pervez Musharraf: Yes very confident, because that is not the policy of Pakistan, that is not the policy of the intelligence agency, not the policy of the army. Therefore I cannot imagine that there was complicity involved.

Karan Thapar: Let me tell the problem with that answer General Musharraf, Osama bin Laden's wife Amal has told Pakistan intelligence that Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad for five years. Is it conceivable that he can live there for so long without any strong measure of official support?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, I doubt that statement because I have read a statement in a paper that they have come here just about three months back. So, I really now, purely from logical point of view, I don't have any intelligence or information to corroborate for what I'm going to say. I can't imagine that they were living there for five years.

Karan Thapar: Except the statement that I have just made, is from BBC and the BBC have said that infact the Pakistan army high command informed them of this. They themselves revealed to the world that Amal has told the Pakistani intelligence that bin Laden was living there for last five years. This is put out by the Pakistani high command.

Pervez Musharraf: Well, I don't know. I have my doubts. Pakistan high command has not been uttering a word as yet. They have not given any statement. I don't know which BBC correspondent got this statement. But however let's leave it at that. To my logic it doesn't appear logical that he could have been there for five years because the people surrounding that place, there have been umpteen number of interviews and none of them have said that they have seen Osama bin Laden. Now don't tell me that he has imprisoned himself in a room for five years, given himself rigorous imprisonment, staying inside a room not visible to anyone to the people living there 24 hours.

Karan Thapar: At the end of the day General Musharraf, whether he was living there for five years, five months or a shorter period of time, it's actually just a matter of detail. The key question is, he couldn't have lived there for as long as he did without anyone doing anything about it unless Pakistan was either complicit or incompetent. Are you sure this is not a case of complicity?

Pervez Musharraf: Yes! I have said so. I'm sure. I would like somebody to ask President Obama or find out why has he thanked our intelligence agency? My information says because it the lead, the intercept, a telephonic intercept from our intelligence agency was given to CIA. Now, if there was complicity they wouldn't have done that.

Karan Thapar: Except for the fact if you are talking about incompetence then the level of competence is astonishing because it now emerged this morning that the CIA has a safe house in the area which they occupied for at least five months. They were taking photographs, and they were closely monitoring intercepting conversations. So clearly if it incompetence, it is an astonishing level of incompetence.

Pervez Musharraf: Well as big as the Bombay, as big as the 9/11. It is incompetency that happens sometimes.

Karan Thapar: But it doesn't excuse it, even if you compare it to Bombay or 9/11. This is the Pakistan army and the ISI accused of incredible incompetence. Will you accept that?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, intelligence yes, and in intelligence I will like to pinpoint this place. Probably of the intelligence, that commander maybe of a very lower military rank. That is the person who is incompetence. It is not the whole agency which is incompetence. The detachment that is there and I know that place is headed by a junior officer. He is incompetent as his detachments are.

Karan Thapar: While you are pointing the finger at a junior officer, let me tell you what the British newspaper 'The Guardian' has published this morning. They have been told by Amarullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan National Directorate of Security, that as far back as 2004, Afghanistan told you (Musharraf), when you yourself was the President of Pakistan, that Osama bin Laden was in Mansehra near Abbottabad and you angrily dismissed the tip off. Do you think with hind side you made a mistake?

Pervez Musharraf: Amarullah Saleh is an anti-Pakistan person. I took him to task in front of President Karzai. Therefore, he will talk all kind of nonsense.

Karan Thapar: Alright. Let me put something else that underline the level of incompetence that we are talking about and I'm quoting from things that the Pakistani official have said after Osama bin Laden was killed. First the ISI told BBC that they had this compound in their sight from 2003 and on one occasion they even raided it. Then the foreign secretary of Pakistan told in an interview to BBC that in 2009 Pakistan had tipped off the Americans about the compound. Finally in January this year, just few months ago the Indonesian al Qaeda terrorist Umar Patek was captured and arrested in Abbottabad just two or so mile away from the compound and he revealed that he had come to Abbottabad to meet Osama bin Laden. So how is it that in fact the Pakistan authorities didn't know that Osama bin Laden was there. It's an astonishing level of incompetence.

Pervez Musharraf: Well yes it is. But as I said the people living there 24 hours all this time that he was inside whether for five years or for five months, didn't know about it. How is that possible? If that is possible, then for the intelligence not knowing that he was inside is also possible.

Karan Thapar: Except the ordinary people not knowing anything is the other thing, the ISI and the army not knowing it is quite another.

Pervez Musharraf: The ISI not know or the intelligence detachment not knowing is indeed it is different. But I think, I would say that the people there, they have greater access. They are there day-in day-out and night-in night-out. They ought to have know that Osama bin Laden was inside. Since they didn't knew there is a possibility that intelligence was not focusing there. And there is a very fact that you yourself are saying that in 2009 they did this, in 2003 they did that. So that itself reveal they were cooperating on the intelligence level.

Karan Thapar: Cooperating but nonetheless ignorant for what was happening in front of their eyes. Let's come to what American are saying about this operation. Leon Pannetta, the head of the CIA has told Time magazine that the intelligence was not shared with Pakistan because he was scared that they would tip off Osama bin Laden. In other words they didn't trust Pakistan. Now, coming from someone who is your closest ally in the world, isn't that a slap on the face?

Pervez Musharraf: Well that is terrible, because we are fighting terrorism together. I think if there is lack of trust, it is bad. It is bad for our war against terror and it must not be there. In my time, till 2007-2008, I know that all operations conducted in Pakistan, intelligence sharing was there, moving on to the target. But each and everyone invariably was attacked by Pakistan law enforcement agencies. This is the first time that this has happened and I know that there is a lack of trust since the last, maybe, about a year.

Karan Thapar: But you are not answering my question Mr Musharraf. What about the fact that the Americans didn't trust Pakistan enough to share intelligence that they were scared that rather than treat the intelligence in confidence, you would share it with Osama bin Laden. Coming from your closest political ally in the world, that is a slap on the face.

Pervez Musharraf: Well, there is a lack of trust, that is what I'm saying. It is bad. It must not happen.

Karan Thapar:Just a bad lack of trust, nothing more serious?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, it's a lack of trust and lack of trust will lead to lack of cooperation. Obviously, and it'll have terrible effects on the fight against terror.

Karan Thapar:Let's then come to something else that Leon Penetta and this time also John Brennon, President Obama's chief of Homeland Security have said very loudly and clearly that Pakistan had no idea of the operation until it was completely over and all the American helicopters had left Pakistani airspace. As a former Army chief, do you accept that or do you think this is a lie?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, the possibility is there. But, I think more possible is that during the operation, maybe Pakistan's some agency or higher command may have been told during the operation. But it is also possible that they came in and went out without our knowing.

Karan Thapar: I'm interrupting you but you are saying that it is quite possible that American helicopters violated Pakistani airspace for almost a total of 2 hours, American soldiers landed on a compound in Abbottabad just a mile away or so from the military academy for almost 40 minutes, killed and took away Osama bin Laden without being detected without being engaged, you do believe as Army chief that's quite possible?

Pervez Musharraf:Well, since I don't have access to information, I don't know it. For the whole two hours as you are saying, maybe that may not be plausible, maybe someone in the Pakistan chair of command may have known. But, however, I don't know.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. Today as you must be aware, that there is outrage and anger in Pakistan, that its airspace could be violated, its sovereignty could be violated for almost two hours, that American soldiers could descend on a compound and kill Osama bin Laden and disappear without being detected, without being engaged. To many Pakistanis, this raises worrying and serious questions about Pakistan's defence preparedness and its ability to secure its borders. As a former Army chief how do you address those concerns today?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, let me frankly admit that our focus on all these radar information in intelligence is focused more towards your side and on this side, because of the mountains and hilly terrain, inaccessible terrains, the surveillance coverage is not that effective.

Karan Thapar: So what you're saying behind that answer is that Pakistan's army, air force and its defence preparedness was caught with its pants down?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, aren't you enjoying using these terms, slap in the face and pants down etc? Well, it has been an embarrassment already.

Karan Thapar: It has been an embarrassment, you frankly admit that. Many would say that its more than embarrassing, its humiliating because Pakistan is after all, not only a country with an Army, but a nuclear power state. Is it humiliating?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, why are you getting involved in all these adjectives? Let's forget it. It has been embarrassing.

Karan Thapar: Tell me General Musharraf, given the outrage and anger in Pakistan, do heads deserve to roll?

Pervez Musharraf: Yes, I think there is a requirement of enquiring, finding out the people who failed and punishing them.

Karan Thapar: What about General Pasha, there is speculation in Pakistan that he may be considering resigning, the Army has officially announced that is not the case, do you think as head of the ISI he should accept responsibility and resign?

Pervez Musharraf: He is the most competent officer and I don't think he should resign.

Karan Thapar: What about General Kayani? He is Army Chief and if Pakistan's defence preparedness and borders were so blatantly violated, should General Kayani accept some measure of responsibility?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, measure of responsibility comes from, if we go right on top, it comes right from the top to the bottom as I said the detachment commander. Let's leave at these things to the enquiry and actions to be taken later.

Karan Thapar: You are saying on the one hand that heads must roll, but you're leaving out of that tally, the possibility that Generals Pasha and Kayani should resign. Do you think that these two gentlemen owe the country an apology?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, I leave it to them to decide.

Karan Thapar: Now this time you have given a very careful, measured answer that you leave it to them to decide. If you had been in their position, would you have apologised?

Pervez Musharraf: I may have apologised on behalf of the intelligence agencies because this is a great slip up, this is a great embarrassment, to that extent, maybe yes, and then assured the nation that we will investigate and find out how this slip up occurred and convincing the world that this does involve complicity.

Karan Thapar: That's a very clear answer and a very telling answer as well General Musharraf. Now, the Americans are letting it be known that should the need arise in the future, they will not hesitate to carry out similar stealth strikes, without informing the Pakistanis and happily and clearly violating Pakistani airspace if required. How do you respond to that?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, this must not be done, the people in the streets already - they do not at all like United States. This will anger them and any agitations in the streets which will increase obviously, if this happens indiscriminately, then it will put that amount of pressure on the government, on the Army, on the intelligence agencies which will not be good in the point of view of cooperating in this war against terror, against al Qaeda or Taliban.

Karan Thapar: I hear you say that this must not happen, but do you think the Americans will listen to that? The Americans did what they wanted to the first time around, surely they'll do it again if they think the need is there.

Pervez Musharraf: Well, no comments, I don't know. I can only say that they must not do it. They must understand Pakistan's sensitivities, specially the sensitivities of the people of Pakistan.

Karan Thapar: Now the Pakistan Army has announced in an official statement that they want the Americans to reduce their military personnel in the country to an absolute minimum. Many people have interpreted it as an emotional response, others say that the Pakistan Army is speaking out of hurt or injured pride. How do you respond?

Pervez Musharraf: Well, I absolutely support this. They shouldn't have been there in any case, they should never have been there. There is no need of American troops in Pakistan. In my time, we had only cooperated on intelligence level, because we needed to develop technical intelligence to target all these al Qaeda people in our cities, To that extent, we sought cooperation. There were no troops in Pakistan and now if there are troops, they must not be there.

Karan Thapar: In other words, you are telling the Americans that if there are troops, they must not be there, they must get out. A quick Yes or No Sir?

Pervez Musharraf: Yes, they must leave.

Karan Thapar: Yes, they must leave. General Pervez Musharraf, thank you very much for speaking to Devil's Advocate.