ISSN 2330-717X

Who Headed Pakistan’s ISI When Bin Laden Was Living In Abbottabad? – Analysis


Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the present Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen.Nadeem Taj, who retired recently, and Lt.Gen. AhmedShuja Pasha, who is on an year’s extension after having reached the age of superannuation on March 18,2011, have, in that order, headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the period between 2005 (month not known) and May 2,2011, when Osama bin Laden was reportedly living near the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) at Abbottabad, about 100 kms from Islamabad.

In October 2004, Gen.Pervez Musharraf appointed then Lt.Gen.Kayani as the DG of the ISI, in place of General Ehsan ul Haq, who was promoted as the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Kayani led the ISI during a bleak period, with insurgencies in North-West Pakistan and Balochistan, Abdul Qadeer Khan’s nuclear proliferation scandal, and waves of suicide attacks throughout Pakistan emanating from the northwestern tribal belt. In his final days at the ISI, he also led the talks with BenazirBhutto for a possible power sharing deal with Musharraf. In October 2007, after three years, he was replaced at the ISI by Lt GenNadeem Taj, who was previously the head of the PMA at Abbottabad. Kayani had the unique distinction of being the first DG of the ISI to be appointed as the COAS when he succeeded Musharraf in that capacity.

Abbottabad Compound
Abbottabad Compound

Kayani, who joined the Pakistan Army in 1970, started his career in the Baloch Regiment as an infantryman. He did not come to public notice till Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, during her first tenure as the Prime Minister (1988-90), chose him as her Deputy Military Secretary. The two maintained their personal friendship despite the ups and downs in her political career.

Kayani, who had done some training courses in the US, is believed to have a wide network of contacts in the US Armed Forces, but he really attracted the attention of the US’ political and military leadership at the time of the Indo-Pakistan military confrontation in 2002 after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. He was the Director-General, Military Operations (DGMO), at that time and the US was reportedly impressed by the cool manner in which he handled the crisis.

In September 2003, he was appointed Corps Commander of the X Corps at Rawalpindi. As Corps Commander, Musharraf made him responsible for co-ordinating the investigation into the two attempts to assassinate him in Rawalpindi in December,2003. Apart from identifying some of the jihadi terrorists responsible for the attempts, Kayani also managed to establish the involvement of some junior officers of the Army and the Air Force in the attempts and had them arrested and court-martialled.

After his appointment as the DG of the ISI, he again impressed the US by his success in having Abu Faraj al-Libbi, an Al Qaeda operative allegedly involved in the attempts to assassinate Musharraf, arrested in the tribal belt in 2005. He was immediately handed over to the US without properly interrogating him in connection with the attempts to kill Musharraf.

Even though Kayani was projected as a highly successful DG of the ISI, facts spoke otherwise. It was during his tenure as the DG of the ISI that the Neo Taliban staged a come-back with a bang, the Pakistan Army practically lost control over the Pashtunbelt and Al Qaeda spread its sanctuaries in Pakistani territory.

Kayani was succeeded as the DG of the ISI by Lt. Gen.Nadeem Taj, who was very close to Musharraf and at the same time known to be a virulently anti-India and anti-US chief of the ISI. It was during his tenure as the head of the ISI that the agency started using David Coleman Headley and Munawuur Hussain Rana, of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), for carryingout terrorist strikes in India. Many suspect that the plans for the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai were drawn up during his tenure as the DG,ISI.

Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who is distantly related to Musharraf, served as the DG ISI for less than a year. He took over as the DG, ISI, on October 8, 2007, after his promotion to the rank of Lt. Gen. Till then, he served as the Commandant, Pakistan MilitaryAcademy, with the rank of Maj. Gen.

Taj , once Musharraf’s Military Secretary (MS), was associated with Musharraf through some of the regime’s most significant events. He was flying with Musharraf from Sri Lanka on October 12, 1999 when the coup was launched and was also inMusharraf’s car during the attempts to assassinate Musharraf at Rawalpindi in December 2003. From MS, he was appointed Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) and then moved on to become General Officer Commanding (GOC) Lahore before taking over as the head of the PMA at Abbottabad.

Taj had a very short tenure of only 10 months as the DG of the ISI because of the USA’s suspicion that he was associated with Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. He was reportedly as distrusted by the US as was Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir, who headed the ISI when Mr.Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister between 1990 and 1993. Nasir had to be sacked by Nawaz Sharif under pressure from the Clinton Administration because of his suspected links with the Afghan Mujahideen.

Taj was removed from the ISI by Kayani allegedly under dual pressure from the US as well as China. The removal came in the wake of reports about US concerns and unhappiness over the alleged role of the ISI in the attempt to blow up the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008, and over leakage of information shared by the US intelligence with the ISI to the Afghan Taliban. Then President Bush was reported to have taken up this matter with Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, when he visitedWashington DC in the last week of July ,2008, as well as with Zardari whom he met in the margins of the UN General Assembly session. While removing Taj from the post of DG, ISI, Kayani took care not to create a feeling of humiliation in him by posting him as the Commander of an important Corps, but as the Corps Commander at Gujranwala he did not have much to do withAfghanistan or the ongoing military operations in the tribal belt. Kayani removed him from any role in the operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The removal of Taj from the ISI also come in the wake of reports of Chinese unhappiness as expressed to Kayani during his week-long visit to China from September 21, 2008, over the lack of a sense of urgency shown by the ISI in rescuing the two Chinese engineers kidnapped by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on August 29, 2008. They were working for a Chinese cellular company in the Dir area of the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. The TTP kidnapped them while they were travelling and removed them to the Swat valley. The TTP demanded the release of over 130 Taliban members in the custody of the Pakistani security agencies in return for their release.

In a report on the subject carried by the ‘News” of September 24, 2008, Rahimullah Yusufzai, the well-informed Pakistani journalist, said as follows: ” A Chinese journalist, who requested anonymity, said the Pakistan Government hasn’t shown any urgency in getting the two young engineers freed. He recalled how the issue of the two Chinese engineers kidnapped by late Pakistani Taliban commander Abdullah Mahsud’s men in South Waziristan in 2004 was resolved within a few days. “The recent case of kidnapping of Chinese engineers hasn’t been resolved even after more than three weeks. We were hoping our citizens would have been freed by now, he said.”

The General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army abruptly announced on the night of September 29, 2008, that Major-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), had been promoted as Lt. General and posted as the DG of the ISI in place of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj.

Lt. Gen. Pasha, who was promoted from the rank of Brigadier to that of Maj.Gen. by Musharraf in January, 2003, had commanded an infantry brigade, a mechanised infantry brigade and an infantry division and had served as the Chief Instructor of the Command and Staff College. In 2001-2002, as a Brigadier, he served as a Contingent and Sector Commander with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone. In October, 2007, Musharraf agreed to a request from Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, to relieve Pasha from the post of the DGMO so that he could be appointed as the Military Adviser, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in the UN headquarters, in place of General Per Arne Five of Norway. An announcement on his posting in the UN headquarters was also made by the office of the UN Secretary-General.

But, this posting did not materialise. In view of the Swat Valley coming under the control of the Taliban-affiliated Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) headed by Maulana Fazlullah, Musharraf ordered a special military operation against the TNSM and asked Pasha in his capacity as the DGMO to co-ordinate it. Pasha got Sufi Mohammad, former chief of the TNSM, who was in detention since 2002, released and sought his help in the operation. In January, 2008, Pasha announced that his troops had defeated the TNSM and freed the Swat Valley from the control of the TNSM. His claim came to haunt him shortly thereafter when the TNSM, which had withdrawn into the hills, staged a come-back and re-established its control over large areas of the Swat. In August, 2008, shortly after the return of Gilani from a visit to Washington DC, Gen.Kayani ordered another special operation against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and asked Pasha to co-ordinate it too. Despite repeated claims of the Army having inflicted heavy casualties on the TTP and Al Qaeda, the two put up a determined fight against the Army and the Frontier Corps.

The “Dawn” of Karachi reported on September 29, 2008, as follows: “Military operations against militants have been a mixed bag of successes and setbacks; however no timeframe could be given with regard to the ongoing campaigns, sources in the military said. ‘It is a continual operation. It is not going to end in 2008 and it is not going to end in 2009. Don’t be optimistic, as far as the timeframe is concerned. It is a different ground and it will take some time’, military sources said in a media briefing.” Thus, as the DGMO, Pasha had a colourless record. That, despite this, he was posted as the DG, ISI, showed his closeness and loyalty to Kayani, who had taken him for his secret meeting with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board a US aircraft carrier, on August 26,2008, and not Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj. It was speculated at that time that Taj did not accompanyKayani to the secret meeting with Mullen because the Americans did not want him.

Thus, in any enquiry regarding collusion between the ISI and OBL since 2005 which enabled OBL to live in Abbottabad, the main suspicion has to be on Nadeem Taj followed by Pasha and Kayani. Another person, whose contacts with Al Qaeda would call for a detailed enquiry is Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah, another officer highly trusted by Musharraf, who served as the Director of the Intelligence Bureau during this period.

When he was in the ISI, Shah used to be the handling officer of Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar, the Amir of the Taliban. After Musharraf seized power in October, 1999, he had him posted as the Home Secretary of Punjab. It was to him that Omar Sheikh, who orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist, surrendered because Omar Sheikh knew him before and was confident that Ejaz Shah would see that he was not tortured.

After the murder of Pearl, there were many allegations regarding Shah’s role. Musharraf tried to protect him by sending him as the Ambassador to Australia or Indonesia. Both the countries reportedly refused to accept him. Musharraf then made him the DG of the IB. As the DG of the IB, he saw to it that the death sentence against Omar Sheikh for his role in the Pearl case was not executed. The courts have been repeatedly postponing hearings on the appeal filed by Omar Sheikh against the death sentence. Before her return from political exile in October 2007, Benazir Bhutto had named him as one of the officers from whom a threat to her security could arise.

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B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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