x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pakistan's ISI chief 'offers to resign' over bin Laden

In a special closed-door session of parliament, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha tells members of parliament that there were errors in the intelligence network during his command – but stressed they were not intentional.

ISLAMABAD // The head of Pakistan's premier intelligence organisation offered to resign yesterday as the country's military leadership defended itself in a special closed-door session of parliament in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces.

Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in an emotional address admitted errors in the intelligence network during his command that allowed bin Laden inside the country, but stressed that these were not intentional, according to members of parliament who attended the briefing and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Gen Pasha said he is willing to step down if the parliament deems it necessary," said one of the MPs. The spy chief did, however, commend the role of his organisation in the effort against militancy and said that the ISI had arrested dozens of high ranking al Qa'eda leaders over the years.

Gen Pasha did not admit to "failure" although he did acknowledge "negligence on part of the intelligence organisation", according to the MPs. They added that Gen Pasha placed equal blame on national police for failing to detect bin Laden's presence in the country.

"We had managed to kill him before his death. He was living like a dead person," Gen Pasha was quoted by the MPs as saying to parliament, an apparent claim that bin Laden had been rendered ineffective due to the arrests of his close aides by the ISI. That claim ran counter to those of US officials who have said bin Laden was planning attacks from his compound in Abbottabad for several years.

The sources said Gen Pasha expressed "bitterness" that the US did not share intelligence on the whereabouts of bin Laden and went ahead with the raid that killed the al Qa'eda leader on May 2.

Gen Pasha confirmed to parliament that bin Laden managed to live for five years in Abbottabad, the northern military town, and never left the compound.

The emotional defence of Gen Pasha - and his willingness to step down - is rare in Pakistan. The ISI is considered to be a state within a state and has unfettered powers with no or little accountability. On several occasions, the ISI has helped topple civilian governments and strengthened the rule of military dictators in Pakistan.

Even so, the raid by US Seals deeply embarrassed the Pakistani military and intelligence organisations.

The fact that bin Laden managed to live in a compound a stone's throw from the Pakistan Military Academy, the country's equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst, has raised troubling questions about the competence or alleged complicity of Pakistan's intelligence apparatus.

There has been an unprecedented outpouring of criticism from within the country and abroad. The Pakistani military is not accustomed to such pointed criticism of its efficacy or conduct.

During yesterday's proceedings, which lasted late into the night, legislators also asked military leaders if their forces had the capability to shoot down unmanned aerial US drones used inside Pakistani territory.

Earlier this week, prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, said the military leadership would be questioned in private about the May 2 raid. Mr Gilani had also announced that a serving lieutenant general of the army would lead an inquiry into why the ISI did not detect either bin Laden's presence or the entry of US helicopters into Pakistani territory and why no action was taken while US forces conducted a 40-minute operation that led to the death of the al Qa'eda leader.

The parliamentary session was held yesterday in deep secrecy. Journalists were not allowed to observe the proceedings and MPs were not authorised to talk to the press while paramilitary and police forces cordoned off all roads leading to parliament. Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army chief, was also present during the session.

The deputy chief of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Air Vice Marshal Asim Suleman, and the director-general of military operations, Maj Gen Ashfaque Nadeem, also gave briefings. PAF officials maintained that its radar systems were functioning properly but the US helicopters used stealth technology to avoid detection.

But the most important briefing was by Gen Pasha, the ISI chief, who is a close confidante and aide of Gen Kayani, the army chief. In another rare rebuke to the spy organisation, opposition members of the parliament belonging to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz shouted "Shame, Shame" as Gen Pasha's spoke to the parliament and criticised ISI's meddling in the country's politics.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae