In a secret deal struck a decade ago, the US and Pakistan agreed that Washington will carry out a unilateral operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil if he was found there following which Islamabad would vociferously protest the incursion, a media report said on Tuesday.
The then military leader Gen Pervez Musharraf and then US president George Bush struck the deal after bin Laden escaped US forces in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, The Guardian newspaper reported.
Under the deal, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid on its soil in search of bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion, the paper quoted serving and retired Pakistani and US officials as saying.
"There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him," said a former senior US official familiar with the counter-terrorism operations.
"The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn't stop us."
A senior Pakistani official said it had been struck under Musharraf and renewed by the army during the "transition to democracy" – a six-month period from February 2008 when Musharraf was still president but a civilian government had been elected.
Referring to the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad compound near Islamabad, the Pakistani official said, "As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement."
The former US official said that the Pakistani protests of the past week were the "public face" of the deal.
"We knew they would deny this stuff."
The deal puts a new complexion on the political storm triggered by bin Laden's death, with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly protesting the raid and warning that "Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force."
54-year-old bin Laden was killed by the US special forces in a secret operation in the garrison town of Abbottabad, 80 kms from Pakistani capital Islamabad.
Pakistan has said that it was "intelligence-driven operation by the US" and it was not informed prior to the raid.