By Raqib Shah
In August 2010 after Pakistani authorities shared intelligence with US about the compound in Abbottabad, US after its own intelligence gathering ascertains that the compound is occupied by Osama’s children. Compound surveillance continues through the next year in anticipation of capturing Osama bin Laden.
In January 2011 the young CIA contractor who is given the charge of Pakistan Station Chief works “extra hard” to gather clandestine information related to ISI and Al Qaeda relationship.
The contractor, now infamous as Raymond Davis the “American Rambo” receives a call from one of his assets, early morning on January 27 about a high value target. But the asset refuses to lay out details on phone or to leave the Lahore city, where he had gone underground. Raymond Davis hires a rent a car and drives to Lahore, while his embassy’s security detail follows him in a bullet proof Land Cruiser.
Raymond Davis is able to loose his Islamabad’s ISI “detail” by leaving in an unmarked rented car. The ISI agents falling for his trap follows the embassy’s Land Cruiser. Raymond Davis arrives at Lahore one hour earlier than his detail and meets with the asset. The asset gives him some pictures of an intelligence building at Tarbela and recording of a phone call. Listening to the phone call, Raymond Davis realizes the gold mine he had struck, and immediately calls his security detail which had also reached Lahore, knowing if ISI reaches him first, he would not leave Lahore alive.
Next hour when the security car catches up with Raymond Davis, the ISI bosses realize that Raymond Davis had given them a slip earlier in the morning and in couple of hours he may have done in Lahore, he might have got some important information. Resultantly, they put two contractors on his tail. Raymond Davis seeing a tail fears the worst and shoots them both in the back, at a traffic stop, without logically realizing that there was no way ISI could have known what he was holding.
His security detail which was close behind rushed to his “rescue”. However, by this time police had chased and arrested Raymond Davis, while the security Land Cruiser running over pedestrians escapes towards US consulate compound in Lahore. ISI officers quickly reach the scene and confiscating the memory sticks realize Raymond Davis has unearthed a deep secret which even their immediate bosses didn’t know about.
The sensitivity of information rattles the entire echelons of the ISI and even its own officers are sent under house arrest while the relevant cell steps forward. At that time even some of the top intelligence officers of ISI outside the relevant cell did not know that Osama bin Laden had died and his body was kept frozen at Tarbela. Young Raymond Davis had unearthed the biggest secret of the century, somehow. But now the Pandora’s Box had been opened. Pak top brass knew it had only a few days or weeks at best to capitalize Raymond Davis’ arrest before US get the intelligence.
In the next six weeks Pakistan plugs all leaks related to Osama’s death and makes sure that maximum gains are made for Raymond’s release. However, when Raymond Davis is released on March 16, his debriefing results in a tsunami of US policy, personal agendas and fueling of political rivalries. Everyone in the US chain of command now wanted to use the information to further personal goals from General Petreaus to President Obama. On March 17, knowing that Pakistan had lost its trump card General Kayani releases a press statement in which he criticizes drone attacks, first from him. From then on Pak Military raised its stance against drone attacks, fearing that US now might target its nuclear assets.
While in USA, politics was at its full swing. General Petreaus wanted to get the buckle for Osama bin Laden’s death on his belt for his future political ambitions, while President Obama wanted the credit to help his sliding popularity. While the tussle continued, the other issue still pending was how to confirm Osama’s death.
In the next one month, nearly every week a top US official visited Pakistan, everyone meeting with General Kayani trying to convince him to hand over Osama’s body. While the stance from Pakistan remained, “Osama, Who?” It was a first in the history that so many US top officials had visited and met with a military chief of a foreign country in such a short time. Seeing nothing getting through the top military brass of Pakistan, US started a political and media campaign on the sides to put extra pressure on Pak Military.
Politics within Obama Administration was also at its full swing. Petraeus was pulling all the strings to take the credit, while trying to lay out a plan to get Osama bin Laden’s body out of Pakistan. President Obama on the other hand in one smooth move decided to “promote” Petraeus to the head of the CIA. The news got out in the first week of April that Petraeus was being transferred to the CIA. While at the main front, Obama continued to pressurize General Kayani and General Pasha and on April 5, Obama Administration submitted a report to the Congress that Pakistan government had no clear strategy to triumph over militants. Alongside the report the media campaign against Pak Military and the ISI continued.
The second week of April began with a bang for top Pak Military brass. On April 7, Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and White House advisor wrote a report arguing that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not only a deterrent to India but also to USA. The obvious had now become clear that Obama Administration has indirectly sent a clear threat to Pakistan’s nuclear assets. The timing of the report was perfect with Centcom Chief Gen James Mattis meeting with General Kayani next day. In the meeting General Mattis asked about Pakistan’s cooperation in capturing Osama bin Laden.
This was ironically one of typical Hollywood thriller scene. Pakistan knew that US knew that Pakistan knows that US knows that Osama is dead. But Pakistan continued the naive game of “Osama Who?” while US continued to play the game that “Osama must be captured”. General Mattis leaves with veiled threats and stresses that Pakistan must do more to against the Al Qaeda and Taliban, or indirectly saying that Osama bin Laden must be handed over.
For the next ten days US waits and sees how Pakistan responds to the threats, but Pakistan acts by burying its head in the sand – see no evil, hear no evil. Obama Administration ups the ante and on April 18 on Pakistan’s Geo TV, Adm. Mike Mullen said ISI “has a longstanding relationship with the Haqqani Network. That doesn’t mean everybody in the ISI, but it’s there.” Again, international media had its field day against ISI and its links with Taliban.
After putting pressure on General Kayani, Adm. Mike Mullen meets with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wyne and General Kayani on April 20. Admiral Mullen again demands indirectly that Pakistan needs to help USA in locating Osama bin Laden. Pakistan’s response was again, “Osama, Who?” Admiral Mullen however, left with another threat that if they came to know about Osama bin Laden’s location they would go ahead and take unilateral action. This is the same message which President Obama repeated in his announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, when he said, “We will take actions in Pakistan, if we knew where he was.”
In response to continued threats from USA, Pakistan starts taking back its air bases from US in an attempt to avoid launching of any operation from its own soil. As a result on April 22 the news appears that Pakistan had taken back Shamsi Airbase from CIA/US forces. While Obama Administration was piling pressure on Pakistan, General Petraeus visited Pakistan on April 26 and met with General Kayani openly asking him to hand over Osama bin Laden, otherwise get ready to face the consequences. Same day Washington also critically attacked Pakistan Army’s counter-terrorism efforts. General Petraeus left with a clear message that unless Pakistan hands over Osama, US forces would be forced to take action over Pakistani soil. Pakistani Military knowing that US knew that Osama bin Laden was dead couldn’t understand Obama Administration’s continued stance on capturing Osama bin Laden. General Petraeus left with the ultimatum that either Pakistan handed over Osama or US would get him.
Same day meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) is held at Rawalpindi, one week ahead of schedule at the Joint Staff Headquarters. The top brass discussed the Osama issue and decision is reached to work out the Obama’s strategy leading to continuous threats for capturing Osama bin Laden alive, even after knowing that he was dead. While in Pakistan intelligence community starts using all of its sources to reach to the bottom of US’ demand of capturing Osama bin Laden. On April 28 President Obama signs General Petraeus’ transfer to CIA and next day signs the orders to attack the Abbottabad compounds. Thus Osama bin Laden’s credit is assured to President Obama.
On 29 April after President Obama signed the orders to “bring back” Osama bin Laden, Pakistani security agencies get a report that another order had been signed which had authorized US forces to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear assets, if needed. The report was nothing short of seeing a death angel for the top Pak Military brass. Seeing the imminent threat, General Kayani tried his last shot when on 30 April 2011 he clearly stated in his Youm-e-Shuhada address: “Pakistan is a peace-loving country and wants friendly relations with other countries and our every step should move towards prosperity of the people. But we will not compromise our dignity and honour for it”. However, it didn’t stop what was about to come 24 hours later.
As night fell on Sunday, 1st May four choppers from a US Afghan base at a low altitude towards its destination in Abbottabad, to the same compound where Osama’s children were in the hiding. Without any detection courtesy of their latest stealth technology and Pakistan’s outdated technology the choppers continued over the Pakistani territory. Ironically, ten years ago a Pak Air force air commodore had raised concern about the outdated radar technology citing that US or worse India could fly helicopters into the country and take out nuclear installations and in reply he was shown the boot while no upgrades to the systems were made.
Anyway, the four choppers made it to the compound in Abbottabad. It is then that Pak Army was notified that they have a choice. Either face an entire barrage of US choppers attacking Pak nuclear assets or hand over Osama’s body. In the meanwhile the small gun battle at the Abbottabad compound continued and to give the drama some authenticity the US forces torched one of their own choppers. Pressed for time a Pakistani helicopter flew from Tarbela carrying dead body of Osama bin Laden which was stored in a cold storage there. While at Abbottabad Pak Army soldiers encircled the entire area around the compound within five minutes of the start of fire fight. The firefight continued for 35 more minutes, waiting for the Pakistani helicopter. Once the Pakistani helicopter reached the compound the three US choppers and the Pakistani helicopter flew towards the Afghan border, this time without the need to fly below the radar detection altitude.
Next day, the world woke up to the news that Osama bin Laden was dead and President Obama had delivered what President Bush and Dick Cheney couldn’t. But the Pak Military brass did not wake up, because they never slept the night before. Last night they had woken to the realization that US could fly under the radar and take out Pakistan’s nuclear assets at any time.