ISLAMABAD: Former defence minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar created a stir yesterday claiming the powerful troika knew about the presence of Osama Bin Laden before he was killed in 2011. The Al-Qaeda founder was killed by the United States Navy Seals in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011 in a covert operation. From 2001 to 2011, Bin Laden was a major target of the war on terror, as the FBI placed a $25 million bounty on him. The operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was ordered by US President Barack Obama. The raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad was launched from Afghanistan. After the raid, reports at the time stated that US forces had taken Bin Laden’s body to Afghanistan for identification and then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death.

Critics accused Pakistan of protecting Bin Laden. Then President Asif Ali Zardari denied that his country’s security forces sheltered the Al-Qaeda supremo. Ahmed Mukhtar, a former defence minister, told CNN-IBN television channel that Pakistan’s civil and military leadership including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the Inter-Services Intelligence knew about the presence of Bin Laden in Pakistani.

“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 maintained. Pakistan has always ‘categorically’ denied that the country’s leadership, ‘civil as well as military’ had any prior knowledge of the US operation against Osama Bin Laden . Mukhtar added, “If you are trying to get hold of a gentleman who has been hiding away in the mountains for more than 15-18 years, then these kind of people are difficult to be found and once you find them they normally don’t live after that. They attempt to commit suicide. They would attempt to finish off their bodies by just killing themselves. I don’t know why he didn’t run away himself?”

PPP leader Senator Rehman Malik, who was the Interior Minister when Bin Laden was killed, said Mukhtar “did not understand the anchor’s question.” He said that Mukhtar was the minister for water and power when the US operation took place so he was least expected to know about security matters. “I was the interior minister and I categorically deny anyone among the civil and the military leadership knew of Bin Laden at all,” he insisted.

Malik said that the television anchor had put his words in Mukhtar’s mouth. “It was all due to the language barrier. Ahmed Mukhtar did not know what he was saying,” he added. Official sources said that National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz contacted Mukhtar seeking a clarification. “He has denied he meant Pakistan knew of his whereabouts but wanted to say everybody knew it when he was killed,” said a government official.

He said that Sartaj Aziz also contacted other PPP leaders regarding Mukhtar’s controversial interview. “The top PPP leadership has assured Sartaj Aziz that Mukhtar’s statement is a result of misunderstanding,” added the official. Other sources said that everybody including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari was disturbed at Mukhtar’s ‘irresponsible’ interview. In a late-night development, Mukhtar claimed that the Indian channel distorted his interview and he denied that he said Pakistani leaders knew about Osama, reported a Pakistani TV channel.