General doubts Pakistan spies aided Osama

2011-07-19 22:59

Islamabad - A retired Pakistani general serving on a commission investigating Osama bin Laden's past presence in his country said he does not believe Pakistan's intelligence services nor its military helped shelter the al-Qaeda leader, an Australian media organisation reported on Tuesday.

Nadeem Ahmed's statements immediately drew criticism from commentators who questioned his impartiality and suggested his comments threatened the integrity of the commission probing how bin Laden ended up in the garrison town of Abbottabad and what led to the May 2 US raid that killed him.

"Irrespective of what the US says, I have absolutely not an iota of doubt on this, that no government in Pakistan, no military in Pakistan, no intelligence organisation in Pakistan would do such a stupid thing," Nadeem Ahmed told an interviewer from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He declined to give too many details about what the commission had so far uncovered.

Pakistani leaders have framed the US raid as a violation of their sovereignty and insisted that they had no idea that America's most wanted man was living in the northwestern town.

US officials have said they've seen no evidence top Pakistani military or civilian leaders sheltered bin Laden. However, some members of Congress have questioned how Pakistan's security establishment could have missed bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, home to a premier military academy.

The US raid deeply humiliated the Pakistani military, prompting the creation of the independent commission, which is led by a judge and includes representatives of the diplomatic corps and the police.

In his interview, Ahmed said it appeared that the US was deliberately trying to weaken the standing of Pakistan's security establishment.

"People see a clear design - responsible people in the military in the US coming up and saying silly things, then the deliberate leaks in the US media, again, you know, saying things which are not correct," he said.

Closed ranks

"So everybody has started to now understand that there is a deliberate design to undermine the security establishment. And therefore I can see they have closed ranks with the security establishment now."

The Associated Press could not immediately reach Ahmed for further comment.

Ahmed also said the CIA's use of a vaccination programme as a cover to try to extract DNA samples from those at the bin Laden compound was "principally, morally, legally incorrect".

Several aid groups involved in vaccination efforts say the CIA ruse has endangered their work.

Ahmed said the commission is planning on trying to get testimony from US officials, but said if none would testify, the panel would note their refusals in its record.

The former military general is relatively well-known among foreign missions in Pakistan, and has been lauded for spearheading relief efforts following disasters, most recently last year's historic floods.

Commissions set up in the past tasked with investigating Pakistan's top bodies have either failed to finish their work or their findings have not been released to the public. Many in Pakistan worry that this one will follow the same fate.

Shahid Latif, a retired air marshal, questioned how Ahmed could exonerate the security establishment at such an early stage in the investigation.

"There are still a lot of things to be seen and evidence to be examined to reach a conclusion," Latif said on Pakistan's privately owned Geo TV broadcaster.

"How can a member of the commission come up with such a statement?"