That Osama bin Laden (OBL) was got in Pakistan’s garrison city Abbottabad is not surprising. The decade long speculations that his powerful Pakistani hosts must have hidden him under their nose were always there. The most wanted man enjoyed deep roots within the military and right wing civilian power corridors of Pakistan, making him the most popular warrior and icon of anti-Americanism. Not in his countries of origin--Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Yemen, for that matter, but again in Pakistan his followers and al-Qaeda have called for revenge against Pakistan’s civilian leadership and purposely spare his ‘uniformed’ hosts.
The most wanted man was brought from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996 in a Pakistani military transport aircraft by the then ISI official Khalid Khwaja, a squadron leader in Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Mr Khwaja was later killed by Punjabi Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal area in 2010 due to the increasing mistrust between him and Taliban. Mr Khwaja, an ideological disciple of the al-Qaeda leader repeatedly claimed after 9/11 that he flew OBL from Sudan to Afghanistan. So far none has challenged his claim. Nor ISI has denied it.
Mr Khwaja also claimed that he had arranged at least five meetings of OBL with Pakistan’s current opposition leader and two times former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, leader of the ruling right wing PML (Nawaz) in Punjab province. The Pakistani media reported that OBL had financed a ‘no confidence’ move led by Mr Sharif against the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto (BB) in 1993. Mr Sharif and his party have condemned the US raid on the OBL compound, terming it a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The PML (N) leadership can hardly defend its links with OBL.
The military-OBL relations were always received with an approving nod within Pakistan establishment and intelligence services before the 9/11. Military officials ranking from Major to General were on OBL’s list of friends. Among them the former ISI chief and ex-general Hamid Gul and former ISI spy in Afghanistan Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar, also known as Col. Imam, were considered OBL’s aides. Col. Imam too was executed by the Taliban in 2011, again due to mistrust between the erstwhile friends.
Soon after 9/11, while the US was negotiating a peaceful surrender of OBL with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the then ISI chief Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad opposed the idea. Afghan Taliban and a leading Pakistani cleric Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai later said the Pakistani General advised Mullah Omar not to hand over OBL to the Americans. They had been sent to Kandahar by military ruler Pervez Musharraf to convince the Taliban to hand over OBL to the US. The General was later dismissed from the service, mainly due to US pressure. Gen. Mahmoud was the only top Pakistani official who watched the 9/11 destruction from the Capitol Hill on that devastating morning in the US. He is alleged to have provided $100,000 to Omar Saeed Sheikh to transfer it to the 9/11 chief hijacker Muhammad Atta.
OBL’s charisma also attracted Pakistan’s nuclear mind. Two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed were detained at the request of the US on October 23, 2001 for their alleged meetings with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. After retiring from their active services, the two scientists established relations with OBL and floated the idea of manufacturing a dirty bomb. They covered their activities via running an NGO called Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), Reconstruction of the Muslim Ummah, in Afghanistan.
OBL ran several Jehadi training camps for the ISI-sponsored radical groups. These camps were located in Afghanistan’s Khost, Kabul and Nangrahar provinces. The recruits belonged to the Jehadi groups lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), a Jehadi wing of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI-F) of Pakistan. In return, LeT built brick villas for Arab friends of OBL at Muridke near Lahore, HuM was running the media campaign for OBL and provided foot soldiers for fighting against Taliban’s rival Northern Alliance and manning security check posts near OBL-run training facilities in Afghanistan. Many journalists who have visited the facilities have later wrote down stories of Pakistanis exercising war games in the camps.
Both LeT and HuM were also responsible for providing food rations and logistic support to the Jehadi training camps in Afghanistan. They also played the role of couriers between OBL and Pakistan’s influential circles. Between 1996 and 2001, HuM arranged OBL’s meetings with journalists. The then leader of HuM Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil established a sort of hot line with OBL in early 1998 in a bid to closely monitor their interests in the region.
OBL enjoyed close relations with leaders of religious parties in Pakistan and prominent clerics. In his Khost press conference in May 1998, while announcing his Islamic International Front (IIF), OBL clearly said that Maulana Samiul Haq, patron-in-chief of Madrassa Haqqania near Peshawar and leader of his own faction of JUI, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai (late), patron-in-chief of Madrassa Banuria in Karachi, Maulana Asad Amir and clerics of Madrassa Farooqia were supporting his cause. Similarly Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chairman National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Kashmir and leader of the JUI (F) have a history of meetings with OBL. The latter also held a three-day huge rally in early 2001 in Peshawar and read out OBL’s letter to the audience.
The OBL’s admirers in military, Jehadi organizations, radical religious parties, right wing parties like PML (N) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement (PTI), and right wing media made him a household name in Pakistan. They have propagated OBL’s anti-Americanism in planted media stories and public gatherings to a level that impressed many in Pakistan. Today in every class room in a Pakistani school you will come upon youngsters with their names as Osama. After OBL’s killing in Abbottabad on May 2, again it is the military, Pakistan’s ‘Jehadi’ groups declared as terrorist organizations, religious parties and mediamen of the sort of Hamid Mirs and Ansar Abbassis who are lamenting the most his killing.