Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf said he didn’t know Osama bin Laden was hiding in the town where U.S. forces killed him in May and doesn’t think the country’s intelligence service had protected the al-Qaeda leader.
“I am very sure of one thing -- that I didn’t know, whether one believes it or not,” said Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999. He remained Pakistan’s Army chief of staff until about a year before he was forced to resign as president in August 2008.
Speculation that the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, a branch of the Army, aided bin Laden doesn’t make sense and couldn’t have been hidden from him, Musharraf told an audience today at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
“I am from the army. They are my people,” said Musharraf, who plans to run for president of Pakistan again in 2013. “I think there was no complicity. There was negligence of the highest order.”
Musharraf, who lives in London, has formed a political party and said he plans to return to Pakistan next year.
The U.S. is scouring evidence seized in the raid on bin Laden’s compound to determine whether any Pakistani military or intelligence officers helped protect him for the five years that he appeared to have lived in the compound in Abbottabad.
“Pakistan today finds itself in the eye of the terrorism storm,” Musharraf said today.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are strained in the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid. “Blame games, rigidity, arrogance, insensitivity to each other’s national interests is certainly very counter-productive,” he said.
Rather than casting aspersions on the intelligence service, the U.S. should help in ferreting out any wayward officers and acknowledge that they would be the exception, he said.
“While I cannot rule out for sure that there is not one element who may be sympathetic toward the Taliban, I am very sure that the general direction of ISI and the military is very positive,” Musharraf said.
Musharraf blamed the presence of “religious militancy” in Pakistan on the longstanding conflict with India and on the U.S. decision to abandon the region after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989.
The U.S. failed to follow up with rehabilitation for the 25,000 to 30,000 fighters that the Americans and Pakistanis recruited from throughout the Muslim world and nurtured to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, he said.
He lamented what he called a “leadership vacuum” in Pakistan’s political circles. He lauded his economic accomplishments during his eight years in office and cited the alliance with the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Musharraf resigned in 2008 amid repeated calls for his impeachment over his ouster of Supreme Court justices and imposition of emergency rule.
He said his only regret from his time in office was an agreement with then-former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that she wouldn’t return to the country before presidential elections. In exchange, the government said it would drop corruption charges against her and her husband, the current President Asif Ali Zardari.
Bhutto violated the agreement by coming back to Pakistan and campaigning for president, Musharraf said. Her assassination on the campaign trail “led to a total swing against my political supporters and me,” he said. Zardari took over his late wife’s campaign after the 2007 assassination.
“I left when Pakistan was on a growth path,” Musharraf said. “Whatever I did, I need to repeat because Pakistan is headed again toward a failed or defaulted state.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at email@example.com.