A former Pakistani defense minister appeared to confirm on Indian television on Tuesday that both his country's senior military and civilian leadership knew of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's presence in their country at the time of his death in 2011. Bin Laden was killed after his compound in the environs of Islamabad was raided by U.S. Navy SEALs.
It's an open secret that elements within Pakistan's military and political establishment must have been aware of bin Laden's location and perhaps even helped him to safe haven in the years after the United States launched its invasion of Afghanistan and global war against al-Qaeda.
In the months and years since, though, Pakistani officials have remain largely tight-lipped about how bin Laden could have ended up finding such cozy sanctuary on Pakistani soil. Some have denied any knowledge whatsoever of his movements. But there have been tacit admissions.
Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, a former Pakistani spy chief, said it was "probable" that the country's main military intelligence organization, known as the ISI, knew of bin Laden's whereabouts and was possibly keeping him as leverage for future dealings with Washington.
And this week, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan's defense minister between 2008 and 2012, told Indian TV station CNN-IBN that they knew that bin Laden was in Pakistan. Here's an excerpt of CNN-IBN's journalist posing questions to Mukhtar:
Question: Did this word spread above in the chain of command, did the President know about it, did the Prime Minister know about it? At what level was this information shared?
Answer: The people who were part and parcel of the whole action like the President of Pakistan, the Armed Forces Chief, the Joint Chief of Staff and the agency people, they were all activated and they were all waiting for orders for them to come out with their teams and provide all the information which they should have done earlier.
Question: So President [Asif Ali] Zardari, you are saying knew about it, General [Ashfaq] Kayani, the then Army Chief had information about it and there were people both in the civilian and military chain of command who had prior information about Osama?
It's not entirely clear in the footage or transcript what the "it" that Pakistan's establishment knew about specifically refers to, but CNN-IBN has breathlessly marketed this revelation as the "truth" that "exposes Pakistan." On its broadcast, the channel slow-motion replayed Mukhtar saying one word — "yeah" — multiple times.
According to Mukhtar, who was called up by Pakistani media on Wednesday, he was "misquoted." He branded the CNN-IBN report as "utter nonsense" in a phone call with Geo TV.
"Regarding the interview being shown on CNN-IBN, and having been the defense minister, I categorically deny and consider these statements utter nonsense and totally misquoted," Mukhtar said.
"The statements have been taken out of context," Mukhtar added. "For example, if we knew about Osama Bin Laden, then we would have taken action ourselves much earlier," he said.
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This post has been updated.