Top Pakistani political and military leadership knew about the presence of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, in their country long before the US killed him in a midnight raid in 2011, former Pakistan defence minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar has told an Indian news channel.
Mukhtar, a long-time member of the Pakistan People’s Party, was Pakistan’s defence minister between 2008 and 2012.
In an interview to news channel CNN-IBN, Mukhtar was asked whether the then top leadership, including President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, had information about bin Laden’s presence in the country. Mukhtar answered in affirmative.
On the intervening night of May 1 and 2 in 2011, the US Navy Seals, who flew from Afghanistan, conducted a raid on bin Laden’s fortified compound in Abbottabad, a garrison town around 100km from the country’s capital Islamabad and killed him in an operation lasting around three hours.
This is the first time a senior Pakistani leader has publicly admitted what had been the subject of suspicion for a long time -- that the Pakistani establishment was aware that bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 attacks that shook the world, was living in Abbottabad.
Pakistani leaders have always claimed that they were not aware of the presence of bin Laden on their soil or about the US raid on his compound.
“The people who were part and parcel of the whole action, like the president of Pakistan, the armed forces chief, the joint chief of staff and the agency people - they were all activated and they were all waiting for orders for them to come out with their teams and provide all the information which they should have done earlier,” Mukhtar said in the interview.
“Some people knew, people in the Pakistan army as well as people in the other forces... they also knew it and they were on the lookout for somebody of the stature of Osama bin Laden,” he said.
Bin Laden’s last years at his final hideout were haunted by his accurate hunch that he was hunted by a remorseless and technologically advanced foe, documents declassified by the US earlier this year showed.