WASHINGTON — Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said he was “shocked” to learn that Osama bin Laden spent years in an Abbottabad house before a U.S. operation killed the al-Qaeda leader in 2011.
Musharraf was president from 2001 to 2008. Al-Qaeda leaders sheltered in Waziristan, and bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound appeared to have been built a few years after the 9/11 attacks.
At the Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday, it was noted to Musharraf that bin Laden was hiding in the same town where the general attended the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy.
“There was no support from either the intelligence or the government side. Why I say that really confidently is because it is believed that he was there for five years. If that be true, then two of those five years was during my presidency,” Musharraf said. “Now, whether anyone believes it or not, I know for a fact that I didn’t know.”
He added “there is no question that the army — any army man knew and I didn’t know,” nor intelligence officers.
“It’s a military garrison town. Yes, there are a lot of frontier posts and Baloch Center and the academy, etc. But this is a tourist town. This is the way to the northern areas through the mountains of Pakistan. Tremendous amount of tourists come here,” Musharraf said. “This is an education center, so many colleges and schools of very top level. There is the — more than 70 percent is civilian population here and tourists. So it’s not a garrison town like any garrison that you think of in the United States that only the military is there.”
“Secondly, let me also say that after he was killed, all the channels of Pakistan went around in that locality, interviewing people and asking them did they know he was there. Not one, repeat, not one said we knew that it is Osama bin Laden. They did say that we thought there is some drug cartel person living here, but they didn’t know Osama bin Laden.”
The former president attributed that in part to the “high wall” around the compound, as high as 18 feet in some places.
“See, the United States is not used to walls around houses, you have open spaces. We believe in walls,” Musharraf said. “…Even before construction of a house, we build walls around. And that — let me assure you that the walls around that house are not that high. And that house is not so large as everyone says here is a huge house, palatial building, high walls.”
When he learned that bin Laden had been in Abbottabad all that time, “there is no doubt that I was shocked,” Musharraf said. “I was certainly shocked.”
“But I have doubts, even now I have doubts that he was there for five years. Maybe he was going and coming, I still believe that,” he added.
“And if he was there in one of the — in one of the public gatherings that I was talking, huge public gatherings where I was being grilled on this aspect, I finally said that the man living for five years in one room with three wives and 18 children, I think he must have rang up CIA himself and declared that he’s there.”
Musharraf insisted that the perception that Pakistan uses violent Islamist groups to its benefit when needed is “unfair.”
“Generally, United States has a tendency of using Pakistan whenever required and then ditch it,” he said. “Now, this is the perception of the people of Pakistan.”