Newly released docs show over a decade of U.S. frustration with Pakistan over bin Laden
U.S. officials had been frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to cooperate in the mission to apprehend Osama bin Laden for over 10 years, according to government documents released Thursday by the National Security Archive. "As the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, raises fresh questions about U.S.-Pakistan relations, newly released documents show that as ...
U.S. officials had been frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to cooperate in the mission to apprehend Osama bin Laden for over 10 years, according to government documents released Thursday by the National Security Archive.
"As the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, raises fresh questions about U.S.-Pakistan relations, newly released documents show that as early as 1998 U.S. officials concluded the Government of Pakistan ‘is not disposed to be especially helpful on the matter of terrorist Usama bin Ladin,’" stated the release on the website of the National Security Archives, which is housed at the George Washington University.
"According to previously secret U.S. documents, Pakistani officials repeatedly refused to act on the Bin Laden problem, despite mounting pressure from American authorities. Instead, in the words of a U.S. Embassy cable, Pakistani sources ‘all took the line that the issue of bin Ladin is a problem the U.S. has with the Taliban, not with Pakistan.’"
The archives posted six new documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, as part of its Osama bin Laden File. The documents date from 1998 to 2000 and therefore do not represent the policies of the current Pakistani government led by President Asif ali Zardari, nor Pakistan’s policies following the 9/11 attacks. But they do show a history of deep distrust between the United States and Pakistan in the early years of the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, despite efforts by former President Bill Clinton‘s administration to convince Pakistan to help bring bin Laden to justice.
According to an Aug. 21, 1998 internal memo written by then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Affairs Karl F. Inderfurth, the Pakistani government tried to distance itself from U.S. strikes on an al Qaeda target in Afghanistan that year, which were a response to the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. "The most sincere reaction of the government of Pakistan to the Bin Laden strikes is exasperation at the unneeded difficulties this event has created for them in dealing with their domestic political situation, and in particular, in keeping the religious parties happy and relatively off the street," he wrote.
According to internal State Department talking points from November 1998, continued efforts to exert pressure on the Taliban to expel bin Laden, including efforts to convince Pakistan to put pressure the Taliban, were unsuccessful. "Time for a diplomatic solution may be running out," the memo stated.
After Clinton met with then Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif in Washington on Dec. 2, 1998, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad sent a diplomatic cable Dec. 18 that communicated their impression that the Pakistani government "is not disposed to be especially helpful on the matter of terrorist Usama bin Ladin." The cable also quoted a news article it claimed was sourced to the Pakistani government, which warned of a U.S. military or clandestine strike to get bin Laden. The article said that the Pakistani government does "not want to have anything to do with Washington’s anti Osama crusade."
U.S. officials continued to press Pakistan on bin Laden throughout 1999, but got little positive response. A May 1999 diplomatic cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad expressed continued frustration with Pakistan’s handling of the bin Laden issue. Top Pakistani officials told their U.S. interlocutors that they were taking the bin Laden issue seriously, but they did not know where he was and did not believe he was planning to attack the United States. One Pakistani official was quoted as admitting that Pakistan was preoccupied with "the recent increase in Indo-Pakistani tensions over Kashmir."
By November 2000, following the attack on the USS Cole and less than a year before the 9/11 attacks, the level of frustration had increased such that Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering opened a meeting with Pakistani officials "by expressing disappointment that Pakistan, whom he called a good friend of the U.S., was not taking steps to help with Usama bin Ladin," according to a diplomatic cable.
Foreshadowing the unilateral raid on May 1 inside Pakistan that ended with bin Laden’s death, Pickering warned the Pakistanis that the United States "would always act to protect U.S. interests at a time and place of its own choice."
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 email@example.com.
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