Former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf should be held accountable for his role in the search for Osama bin Laden who for some three years was hiding within earshot of the country’s premier military academy while Musharraf led the country and its army. Whether clueless (his answer) or complicit about bin Laden’s hideout, Musharraf failed to bring justice to the world’s most-wanted man for years. We should press him for answers about his ineptitude, not look to him for answers about his country’s future.
Musharraf is regularly hosted by American think tanks and the media and asked his views on his country’s future. This is normal in America. He can’t go home of course because of numerous pending court cases involving his presidency, which ended in disgrace in 2008 after the murder of his rival Benazir Bhutto.
In 2001, Musharraf promised President George Bush Pakistan’s help in bringing bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda to justice. Some al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheik Mohammed were caught, but the big fish, bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, were able to hide out in Pakistan throughout Musharraf’s era. Zawahiri and Omar are still hiding out in Pakistan.
Sometime in 2005 or 2006 bin Laden moved into a house in Abbottabad. An al Qaeda operative, a Pakistani who had grown up in Kuwait, served as his messenger to the outside world from this hideout. Named for a 19th-century British army officer, Abbottabad is an army town. Three regiments are based there, Pakistan’s first military dictator Ayub Khan was born there and it is home to the Kakul military academy, Pakistan’s West Point.
The commandant at Kakul when bin Laden settled into his lair was one of Musharraf’s closest aides, General Nadeem Taj. Taj had accompanied Musharraf on an official visit to Sri Lanka in 1999. On the flight home Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif fired Musharraf as army commander. Taj helped orchestrate the coup that ousted Sharif and put Musharraf in power. Taj, as commandant in Kakul, should have been well informed on all security issues in Abbottabad and keeping his boss in the loop.
In his chatty memoirs published in 2006, Musharraf says the army was looking for al Qaeda leaders in Abbottabad, so it was on their screen. He has also said he used to jog past the house bin Laden was hiding in.
In 2007 Musharraf gave up his uniform after the Pakistani people demanded a return to democracy. General Kayani took his place as army chief. Taj became director general of the Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), replacing Kayani and thus had the top intelligence command for the hunt for bin Laden. Within a year, the Bush administration demanded Taj be removed because the ISI was warning al Qaeda terrorists in advance about drone strikes, and had helped the Taliban blow up India’s embassy in Kabul. He was promoted to be a corps commander, one of the dozen or so top generals who run the country. A few weeks later, 10 Pakistani terrorists attacked the city of Mumbai, killing dozens including six Americans. We now know the ISI had helped train them and pick their targets.
President Obama wisely decided we could not tell Kayani that we had tracked bin Laden to Abbottabad. He could not be trusted. Nor can we trust Musharraf. Americans and Pakistanis have every reason to ask Musharraf and his fellow generals hard questions about what they knew and when they knew it. We should also bear in mind Musharraf’s past when he pontificates for think tanks. Maybe his advice is a bit tarnished.