NEW DELHI: The US is turning the heat on Pakistan's ISI as it tries to establish the identity of those who sheltered Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. And, going by reports in the US media and assessments made by Indian experts, the needle of suspicion is pointing at not just ISI boss Shuja Pasha but also two of his predecessors, one of whom is none other than Pakistan army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
Kayani was the ISI chief when Osama is said to have shifted to the Abbottabad mansion in 2005. Pasha is now said to be under pressure to quit as the ISI failed to detect Osama's presence for almost three years under him. Kayani's successor in the ISI, Nadeem Taj who took over in October 2007, is the third and an equally strong suspect. Known as the most rabid anti-US and anti-India boss the agency has had in the recent past, Taj was eased out of ISI after a 10-month tenure in 2008 allegedly under pressure from the US.
"In any enquiry regarding collusion between the ISI and Osama bin Laden since 2005, which enabled OBL to live in Abbottabad, the main suspicion has to be on Nadeem Taj followed by Pasha and Kayani," security expert B Raman said. It was during Taj's tenure as ISI chief that the agency used David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana for reconnaissance missions in India and during which the July 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul took place. It is significant that Taj was heading the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad before taking over as ISI chief.
The US has sought information about those senior officials who worked closely with militants in the past and Taj's name is likely to figure right at the top. As former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal put it, though, it is inconceivable that Osama continued to live right under the nose of the military establishment without the knowledge of Kayani who headed ISI in 2005.
"Kayani would have known and so would have Pasha. One can't dispense with reason and logic simply because there is no documentary evidence to prove it," Sibal told TOI. He added that he did not see anything relevant coming out of the US exercise to identify those who helped Osama hide in Abbottabad because the Pakistanis were not going to give any "self-incriminating" information to the US.
The New York Times earlier reported about the growing suspicion in the US security establishment that at least somebody in ISI was aware of Osama's whereabouts. It said the US was frustrated as even in the past, Pakistani military and intelligence had failed to identify those ISI officials who had worked closely with Osama since the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. "There are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn't surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew," it quoted a US official as saying.
Former CIA officer Art Keller was also quoted as saying that, at best, it was a case of willful blindness on the part of the ISI. "Willful blindness is a survival mechanism in Pakistan," Keller said, adding that Osama wouldn't have ventured into Abbottabad if he did not have any assurance of protection.