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Pakistani Ambassador: Missing bin Laden was either “incompetence” or “overconfidence”

U.S.-Pakistan relations are in chaos this week following the revelation on Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been residing in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which has an extensive Pakistani military presence.  Everyone wants to know how the Pakistani government could have totally unaware of bin Laden’s presence, as they claim to have been. In an exclusive ...

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

U.S.-Pakistan relations are in chaos this week following the revelation on Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been residing in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which has an extensive Pakistani military presence.  Everyone wants to know how the Pakistani government could have totally unaware of bin Laden’s presence, as they claim to have been.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani said that his government will conduct a series of internal investigations to find out how bin Laden could have been living deep less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad, and to determine if any Pakistani government personnel were helping him. He also said that the investigations will be conducted solely by Pakistan, without direct U.S. involvement.

"Pakistan will conduct a full inquiry into what his support network was, whether the support network was a private network, or whether it involved individuals working at any level in our police or security services or anywhere," Haqqani said. "We totally reject there was complicity as a policy decision. The only other two explanations are incompetence and overconfidence of our security services."

The Americans won’t be part of that investigation, but Pakistan will share what it considers to be important information with the United States, and expects the same treatment from the Obama administration in return.

"If there is anything important for both sides to know, it definitely will be shared with the American side. And we look forward to receiving any information from the Americans that may be relevant to our understanding to what happened and how Osama bin Laden ended up where he was found," Haqqani said.

President Asif Ali Zardari will decide who will lead the overall investigation, and there will be other internal investigations in the military and the local police as well, Haqqani said. He confirmed that Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman formally requested in his Tuesday meeting with Zardari that Pakistan make several gestures of cooperation in the wake of the operation, including that Pakistan hand over the contents of the bin Laden compound and make available the bin Laden family members who were left alive there.

The Pakistani government was still considering the request, but today’s statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry noted that the family members "will be handed over to their countries of origin," casting doubt on whether it would comply with the U.S. request.

The Foreign Ministry statement also heavily criticized the United States for violating Pakistani sovereignty, stating that the bin Laden operation "shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US. Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometime constitute threat to international peace and security."

Haqqani didn’t directly contradict that statement, but emphasized that "Pakistan’s government is as satisfied as the American government and the rest of the world over the fact that Osama bin Laden has been put out of business and he will no longer be able to plot terrorist attacks in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world."

Various Pakistani officials’ conflicting statements about what they knew, and when, are complicating Pakistan’s diplomatic response to the bin Laden embarrassment. Wajid Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner in London, said Pakistan knew where bin Laden was, but the Americans just acted quicker.

"I do not know on what basis Hasan said what he said. This is all Monday morning quarterbacking anyway," Haqqani responded.

One of the lingering questions is how the American helicopters could travel so far into Pakistan without being detected by Pakistani air defenses. Some have suggested this is an indication that the Pakistani military was cooperating with the operation.

Haqqani disagreed, however, saying that Pakistan simply doesn’t have strong air defenses on its western border. Its air defenses are directed at India, he said, not Afghanistan. "Pakistani defenses are configured in light of the threat perception that does not look at the possibility of air penetration from the Afghan side," he said.

The Foreign Ministry statement echoes this point, saying, "US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain. US helicopters’ undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology and ‘map of the earth’ flying techniques."

Haqqani said that he was boarding a plane to London when he received a text message stating that bin Laden was dead, and didn’t learn the details of the operation until several hours later when the plane landed. By that point, news of the operation had spread around the world. President Barack Obama soon after informed Zardari, CIA Director Leon Panetta called Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen called Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The Cable pressed Haqqani on several reports of how the Pakistani military may have either been involved or reacted to the operation Sunday night. Haqqani suggested reports that Pakistani jets were scrambled in response to the firefight at bin Laden’s compound might not be true, and said he didn’t believe reports that Pakistani military personnel asked nearby residents to turn off their lights before the attack.  He also said that he had no idea if anyone from the ISI was working with the CIA on the mission.

"It’s the media’s job to speculate," he said. "But if I were you, I wouldn’t believe everything you read."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin