Seymour Hersh’s sensational 10,000 word report on the Abbottabad raid was met by most analysts, including this humble blogger, with something of a smirk. While he described the official version of events as a story that “might have been written by Lewis Carroll”, his tale itself seemed to be filled with deep rabbit holes. However, things began to quickly take a turn as additional sources from the shadowy world of spy agencies began to confirm portions of his story. First came NBC News report that said that “a special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan…and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official” all confirmed that “a retired Pakistani military intelligence officer” helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden and that “some officials in the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along”. Then came a second report where investigative journalist Carlotta Gall said that this part of Hersh’s report was also in line with what she was told during her research in Pakistan:
I learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding Bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset. After the book came out, I learned more: that it was indeed a Pakistani Army brigadier — all the senior officers of the ISI are in the military — who told the C.I.A. where Bin Laden was hiding, and that Bin Laden was living there with the knowledge and protection of the ISI.
I will not pretend to have any insights into this. Like everyone else, I am watching the story unfold before my eyes. There is one thing that has captured my curiosity, though. In dismissing Seymour Hersh’s report, many analysts both in Pakistan and abroad, criticised the reporter for relying so heavily on former DG-ISI Gen Duranni. He retired from service 20 years ago, they explained. He may be good at getting himself on TV, but he’s not privy to such details of covert operations. Now, though, it’s not just Seymour Hersh whose story is being confirmed, it’s Gen Durrani’s.
Dr Shakil Afridi is facing renewed legal trouble after the tribunal hearing his appeal was dissolved a few weeks ago. You will recall that the doctor was not arrested and convicted of helping the CIA locate Osama bin Laden, the international terrorist who ISI was definitely not hiding. While he waits to find out whether any new tribunal will hear his appeal, though, he is once again in the news, this time taking the blame for the nation’s growing polio epidemic.
Musharraf’s confirmation of Army support for Taliban is particularly important in the context of facts revealed by Wikileaks documents a few years ago. One leaked document discusses the involvement of another former General, Hamid Gul, in supporting Taliban. According to one document, “It was not known whether Hamid Gul was acting with the knowledge or consent of ISI, or whether any portions of ISI were aware of his activities.” While the knowledge or consent of secret agencies will always be difficult to prove beyond any doubt, it would be fairly naive to believe that Hamid Gul’s pro-Jihad activities were done without at least tacit approval of the Army leadership. Hamid Gul has described himself as “an ideologue of jihad“. It is increasingly apparent that he is not the only General who subscribes to this ideology.
Much fanfare was made of COAS Gen Raheel’s recent trip to Washington, with even the supposedly independent Express Tribune publishing an embarrassingly sycophantic editorial praising the Army chief’s trip. Now that the celebrations have died down, more sober assessments are finding nothing to write home about. One analyst noted that the trip had a sense of deja vu around it, and he is correct. Even the General’s much touted “Legion of Merit” award from the US appears to be little more than diplomatic theatre. Six of the last eight recipients were high-ranking Pakistani military officers including former COAS Gen Kayani. These diplomatic visits are always more about theatre than substance, though, so that is not surprising. What is more bothersome is the feeling of deja vu one is getting at home.