Lt. General Asad Durrani (retd), the former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, has told Al Jazeera’s Head to Head that Pakistan most likely sheltered Osama Bin Laden in the years leading up to the US raid in Abbottabad in May 2011.
He doubts the ISI’s official line that it had been unaware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts until his death, and implied that the Pakistan would have only exchanged knowledge of his location in a quid pro quo deal.
General Durrani was Director-General of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from 1990-1992, Ambassador to Germany from 1994–1997, and Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2000–2002.
These comments came in the recording of Head to Head, Al Jazeera’s premier interview programme, which is hosted by Mehdi Hasan and filmed in front of an audience at the Oxford Union. This episode forms part of the brand new series of the show, which will air in April on Al Jazeera English.
General Durrani told Hasan, “I cannot say exactly what happened but my assessment […] was it is quite possible that they [the ISI] did not know but it was more probable that they did. And the idea was that at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been, when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.”
He asserted that Bin Laden was, in his opinion, handed over in exchange for an agreement on “how to bring the Afghan problem to an end.” Asked by Hasan whether Bin Laden’s compound was an ISI safe house, Durrani responded: “If ISI was doing that, than I would say they were doing a good job. And if they revealed his location, they again probably did what was required to be done.”
Officially, the ISI maintains that it did not harbour Bin Laden and played no part in the raid in 2011. However, commentators have questioned how Bin Laden could have eluded the intelligence agency in the years leading up to his discovery, given the location of Bin Laden’s compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad. The Abbottabad Commission, which was set up by the Pakistani government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the raid, charged the military and the government with “gross incompetence” leading to “collective failures” that enabled Bin Laden to reside in Pakistan unnoticed, and that failed to detect the US mission in May 2011.
General Durrani also told Hasan, “The admission of incompetence was probably done on political reasons… As far as the people of Pakistan were concerned, it was going to be very uncomfortable for them that their government, you know, is in cahoots now with the United States and gets hold of Osama Bin Laden,” adding that Bin Laden “was an admired figure in Pakistan.”
General Durrani is currently a writer and commentator on regional security. Following his candid statements on the Bin Laden raid, he added, “Except that I do not know what happened; I do not know what happened.”
The full interview, which will air in April 2015, forms part of the fourth series of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan’s hard-hitting interview show on Al Jazeera English. It will be accompanied by interviews with George Papandreou, the former Prime Minister of Greece; Sir Paul Collier, Oxford University Professor and author ofExodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century; and Robert Wistrich, one of the world’s leading experts on anti-Semitism.
Here are two particular exchanges on Bin Laden:
Mehdi Hasan: Do you believe, General Durrani, and do you expect the people in this room to believe that the ISI had no knowledge of where Osama bin Laden was before his death? That Bin Laden, who was discovered in 2011, in Pakistan, in Abbottabad, in a very large building in a military town, near a military base, and the ISI had no clue that he was there. Really?
Lt. Gen Asad Durrani: On the 2nd of May 2011, I was tracked down. I was attending an Af-Pak meeting in Abu-Dhabi and BBC Hard Talk’s Stephen Sackur, he had people track me down and said, ‘Look, you have been saying that Osama bin Laden was likely to be found in a big city, it seems you have been proven right.’ I said I’m glad, so? Do you think that I knew about him? They won’t admit that, and till today I cannot say exactly what happened but my assessment. I mean here it’s about giving your assessment. My assessment was it is quite possible that they did not know but it was more probable that they did. And the idea was that at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been, when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States. The quid pro quo to my mind, until today I am not going to say that it was, that I have known about it, that I am absolutely sure about it, and that was, you get your Osama bin Laden, provided that, now let’s agree, let’s agree on how to bring the Afghan problem to an end.
Mehdi Hasan: Just to be clear, when you say we may have known where he was and we may have produced him, does that mean you actually know where he is or actually you’re sheltering him, it’s an ISI safe house.
Lt. Gen Asad Durrani: If ISI was doing that, then I would say they were doing a good job. And if they revealed his location, they again probably did what was required to be done. Except…
Mehdi Hasan: [Interrupting] Are you going to ask us now to give a round of applause to Bin Laden as well?
Lt. Gen Asad Durrani:[LAUGHTER] Except that I do not know what happened, I do not know what happened.