NEW YORK- Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had established a special desk to handle late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden during the tenure of President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, according to The New York Times.
The report states that the desk ‘was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden.’ The report citing a Pakistani official alleges that the US had direct evidence of the then ISI chief Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha knowing of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The Pakistani official told The NY Times that he was ‘surprised to learn this and the Americans were even more so.’ According to the official, Pasha had been an opponent of the Taliban and ‘an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI.’
The New York Times report also alleges that evidence recovered from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad residence revealed regular correspondence with Jamat-ul-Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed and Mullah Omar of the Taliban who must have known he was living in Pakistan.
Further allegations in the report state that there were cells in the ISI working against and fighting the Taliban while some cells were supporting them. The report also suggested that Bin Laden reportedly traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to meet with the militant leader Qari Saifullah Akhtar. Informally referred to as the “father of jihad,” Akhtar is considered one of the ISI’s most valuable assets. According to a Pakistani intelligence source, he was the commander accused of trying to kill Bhutto on her return in 2007, and he is credited with driving Mullah Omar out of Afghanistan on the back of a motorbike in 2001 and moving Bin Laden out of harm’s way just minutes before American missile strikes on his camp in 1998. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was detained several times in Pakistan. Yet he was never prosecuted and was quietly released each time by the ISI.
At his meeting with Bin Laden in August 2009, Akhtar is reported to have requested Al Qaeda’s help in mounting an attack on the Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Intelligence officials learned about the meeting later that year from interrogations of men involved in the attack, the report said.At the meeting, Bin Laden rejected Akhtar’s request for help and urged him and other militant groups not to fight Pakistan but to serve the greater cause — the jihad against America. He warned against fighting inside Pakistan because it would destroy their home base: “If you make a hole in the ship, the whole ship will go down,” he had said.
According to the report Bin Laden said that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Indian Ocean region would be Al Qaeda’s main battlefields in the coming years, and that he needed more fighters from those areas. He even offered naval training for militants, saying that the United States would soon exit Afghanistan and that the next war would be waged on the seas. Pakistani intelligence sources termed allegations made in The New York Times report as baseless, stating that no one was aware of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.