The most compelling piece of evidence that the Pakistani government was complicit in the harboring of Osama bin Laden came today in a New York Times report about a cell phone recovered from Osama bin Laden's courier. The phone reveals contacts with Harakat-ul-Mujahadeen, a militant group established by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Making matters worse for Pakistan, longtime affiliates with the ISI told the Times "they were convinced that the ISI played a part in sheltering Bin Laden." As it stands, Pakistan continues to deny any responsibility for providing a sanctuary to bin Laden in Abbottabad and already, the Harakat-ul-Mujahadeen is refuting the Times report, telling the BBC "Al-Qaeda had their own discipline, their own thinking, their own organisation. We have never ever been in touch with Osama." But as they continue to deny, the trail of connections continues to grow.
The connections between bin Laden and Pakistan's intelligence agency has been a question of pressing debate since Navy SEAL's killed him in a raid on his compound. Pakistan's ISI began supporting Afghanistan's mujahedeen insurgency in the 1980s. As the Times piece notes, in the late '90s "Harakat collaborated closely with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, sharing training camps and channeling foreign fighters to Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The group’s leader, Mr. Khalil, was a co-signer of Bin Laden’s 1998 edict ordering attacks against America. The group even organized press trips for journalists to see Bin Laden in Afghanistan before 9/11 and was used to pass messages to him, said Asad Munir, a retired brigadier and former intelligence official."
High level suspicions of Pakistan's protection of bin Laden have been expressed several times since the raid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has long been critical of Pakistan's commitment to rooting out terrorism, expressed early suspicions of Pakistan's role in hiding bin Laden. "I don't think she [Clinton] gave them a free chit," Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington in May. With mixed messaging, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Associated Press last week that the U.S. was suspicious that Pakistan was helping bin Laden but didn't go as far as to blame them. “We don’t know the specifics of what happened,” Gates said. "There are suspicions and there are questions, but I think there was clearly disappointment on our part.”
Last week, Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence made no qualms about blaming the ISI for aiding bin Laden. “I believe that there are elements of both the military and intelligence service who in some way, both prior and maybe even current, provided some level of assistance to Osama bin Laden,” he said, after recently returning from a visit to Pakistan.
In a sign of how interwoven the Pakistani military is with the radial Islamic militants, on Tuesday, the Pakistani military arrested Brig. Gen. Ali Khan, who was detained following the raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. "An army spokesman said Brig. Gen. Khan... was believed to be associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir, an outlawed radical Islamic group," reported The Wall Street Journal. "The group, which has roots in the Middle East and has also been active in Britain, clandestinely dropped pamphlets in military cantonments after the bin Laden raid calling on soldiers to rise against the military leadership." Khan wasn't directly tied to the coverup of bin Laden, however.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.