WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s former US ambassador Husain Haqqani has claimed that his ‘connections’ with the Obama administration enabled the United States to target and kill Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In an article published in The Washington Post on Friday, Mr Haqqani defended the Trump team’s contacts with Russia during and after the 2016 US presidential elections and said he also had established similar relations with members of the Obama campaign during the 2008 elections.
Those contacts “led to closer cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in fighting terrorism over the 3 1/2 years I served as ambassador” and “eventually enabled the United States to discover and eliminate bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military, which were suspected of sympathy toward Islamist militants”.
Mr Haqqani wrote that the friends he made in the Obama campaign team were “able to ask, three years later, as National Security Council officials, for help in stationing US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan”.
Explaining how he responded to those requests, the former ambassador wrote: “I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved. Although the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation, these locally stationed Americans proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.”
Mr Haqqani recalled that in November 2011, he was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle.
“Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army — even though I had acted under the authorisation of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders,” he wrote in the Post.
Mr Haqqani said the purpose of his cooperation with US officials was to ensure a victory in the fight against terrorists.
“Unfortunately, the United States did not attain victory in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani government’s behaviour toward militant Islamists did not change on a permanent basis. But for the period I was in office, the two nations worked jointly toward their common goals — the essence of diplomacy,” he wrote.
Mr Haqqani said his article also covered the diplomatic exchanges about visas and the end result of the US pursuit of bin Laden and cited allegations against him over the visa issue.
“There is no new ‘admission’ over the visas as suggested by some in the Pakistani media who choose not to examine the real issue relating to bin Laden living in Abbottabad for years,” he wrote.
When contacted, PPP spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar said the visa issue had been raised in the past also. “All procedures were followed in the issuance of visas to the Americans and no complaint had been made by any branch of the government,” he said.
Mr Babar clarified that Mr Haqqani now worked independently and was not a spokesperson for the PPP government of the time.
In an email to Dawn, Mr Haqqani said on Sunday that he had “retained complete record of every visa issued to US officials” while he served as ambassador. “I will be compelled to make it public, with authorisations including those by senior military personnel, if conspiracy theories continue to be circulated to target the patriotism of civilians,” he warned.
Reacting to the huge public reaction to his Post article, Mr Haqqani said: “It is time … to stop agitating over visas to Americans and for facing the real question of why Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan and how Americans were able to find him while our intelligence service could not.”
Quoting from a statement that former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made after the May 2, 2011, US raid on an Abbottabad compound that killed Osama, Mr Haqqani said: “The real issue is not how many Americans – our allies and aid benefactors – got visas but rather who gave visa to bin Laden.”
Mr Haqqani said that after he began reading about the Trump administration’s contacts with the Russians, he rummaged through his files and diaries to “retrace my steps as ambassador in the fall of 2008”.
He said he had maintained relations with three teams of American officials, politicians and professional staffers, the Bush administration and the two major-party candidates.
Mr Haqqani said he had met senior members of the Republican and Democratic national committees, more than a dozen senators and congressmen from each party, and several individuals from both sides who were tipped to emerge in senior government positions after the election. “This is totally normal for ambassadors,” he added.
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2017