Washington: An “emotional” Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari expressed happiness while his powerful army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was left “shocked” and demanded a public explanation from American President Barack Obama when US told them about Osama Bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad.
On 2 May last year when Admiral Mike Mullen, the then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Kayani, to inform him about the unilateral raid, the latter, who was shocked to listen about it, demanded that Obama should go public and explain the entire incident as soon as possible.
“Kayani, in effect, demanded that Obama publicly explain what had happened as soon as it was feasible to do so. Mullen walked back into the Situation Room and said, ‘Kayani has asked for us to go public,’ which swayed Obama to go forward,” Peter Bergen, writes in his latest book ‘Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden — from 9/11 to Abbottabad’ that hit the stands this week.
According to the book, Kayani said, “Our people need to understand what happened here. We’re not going to be able to manage the Pakistani media without you confirming this.
“You can explain it to them. They need to understand that this was bin Laden and not just some ordinary US operation”.
Once the operation was over, Bergen writes in his book, Obama called Zardari, and told him the news.
“Zardari became emotional. His wife, Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister, had been assassinated by the Taliban four years earlier. Zardari told Obama, ‘I’m happy because these are the same types of people who killed my wife, and her people are my family, so I share in this’.
“Admiral Mullen then got through to General Kayani, on a secure line. ‘Congratulations’, Kayani immediately said upon hearing the news about bin Laden. The conversation lasted a tense twenty minutes,” the book says.
Mullen told Kayani the outlines of what had happened in Abbottabad and said that the president was mulling over making a statement about the raid.
Kayani said that he was concerned about the violation of Pakistani sovereignty and urged that Obama go out as soon as possible and explain what had happened, he wrote.
Bergen writes that given the history of tense relationship between India and Pakistan, the planners of the bin Laden raid had taken precaution, but were nervous what impact this could have on India-Pak relationship that night.
The then National Counter Terrorism Center head Michael Leiter is quoted as saying in the book: “We were just amazed by the lack of a Pakistani response. It was, even by Pakistani standards, remarkably slow”.
Belatedly, the Pakistanis did scramble two F-16s. Leiter, who had logged hundreds of hours of flight time in attack jets, was not especially concerned, knowing that Pakistani pilots didn’t have much nighttime flying capability.
“I had some appreciation for the Pakistanis’ ability to find two helicopters flying near the ground at night with no airborne command and control,” Leiter says.
“An American F-16 couldn’t have found them in the time they needed to. It was just a non-risk. Some people were more nervous than I was,” he added.
Leiter was, however, concerned that the Pakistan military might interpret the mysterious choppers flying around Abbottabad as an incursion by the Indian air force and was relieved when the Pakistani F-16s started flying away from the Indian border, Bergen wrote in his book.
According to the book, Mullen knew it was important to try to reach Kayani before his generals spoke with him, because it would give Kayani the opportunity to take some ownership of what had happened, rather than leaving him to say that he had had no idea what was going on.
“The Pakistanis might also think that the events in Abbottabad were part of an attack by their traditional enemy India, and the Obama administration had to make sure that they understood the truth of the matter as soon as possible to avoid any conflict between the two nuclear-armed states,” Bergen wrote.