India had twice told US about Osama’s likely presence close to Islamabad
Sachin Parashar, TNN | May 4, 2011, 01.41am IST
NEW DELHI: It now turns out that Indian agencies had twice warned their US counterparts about the presence of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in an urbanized and heavily populated area not very far from Islamabad – once in mid-2007 and again in early 2008 when they specifically mentioned his likely presence in a cantonment area. On both occasions, the Americans either did not take the Indian intelligence seriously or perhaps were too busy working on their own inputs about Osamas whereabouts.
The first time Indian security agencies gave this information to the US authorities was in mid-2007, soon after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar which was attended by Osamas No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to the information gathered by Indian intelligence operatives, this meeting was also attended by top leaders of Haqqani network and at least two ISI officials.
Days after the meeting, Zawahiri visited Islamabad as per the information available with Indian authorities and this formed the basis of Indias first input to the US about Osamas hideout. “The urgency with which Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told them about Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got,” said a top intelligence official involved in processing the information.
In the next six months, Indian operatives every now and then came up with information about movement of Osamas confidants in the region. The next definite input passed on to the US agencies by Indian officials was in early 2008 when there was specific mention made of his illness and his likely presence in a cantonment area. “This time we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors,” said the official.
While the US has officially maintained that Pakistani authorities were not informed about the operation till the American choppers left Pakistani airspace, India security officials take this with a pinch of salt. “The Americans might have that capability but we have no reason to rule out that the Pakistanis decided to turn him in because he was proving to be too much of a liability for them with no operational utility,” an official said.
This has also raised doubts about the whereabouts of Zawahiri, now widely regarded as al-Qaidas supreme leader. In the past, he has been reported to be hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.