In Urdu, the phrase ‘sutra kaam’ means to deceive someone completely. In this case, an investigative journalist with more than 50 years of experience, Seymour M Hersh, has fallen victim to ISI’s ‘sutra kaam’.
In his story on Sunday on the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in the London Review of Books titled ‘The Killing of Osama bin Laden’, Hersh has tried to uncover the lies of the White House. In the process, Hersh has clearly, and, most probably, unwittingly, fallen into the trap of one of the most deceptive spy services in the Muslim world, the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence — the agency that answers to none but Allah and Pakistan’s army chief.
As a victim, I am incensed because I had to flee Pakistan, like hundreds of other Baloch exiles, primarily because of the ISI. I lost a number of people I knew, as a journalist in Balochistan, to the dreaded ISI. I have their numbers and names in my phone book, but they are long dead and gone. The victims include Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, former governor and chief minister of Balochistan, who was killed in an army operation when former army chief General Pervez Kayani was the ISI chief. Kayani has been mentioned, not as a source, but as a key character in the 10,000-word piece.
Others whose names are in my phone book, but have been killed by the ISI include Prof Saba Dashtiyari, who was assassinated on the streets of Quetta, and politicos Ghulam Mohammed Baloch and Lala Munir Baloch, who were abducted from their lawyer’s office in Turbat and their mutilated bodies were found dumped four days later.
The description of Osama bin Laden as a ‘prisoner’ is the most troublesome aspect of the Seymour Hersh story as this description helps paint the treacherous spy agency, which is accused of running a parallel government in Pakistan, in a favourable light. Bin Laden was not a prisoner but a VVVIP guest of the intelligence services of Pakistan. No ‘prisoner’ lives with his three wives and multiple children in the safe haven of the country’s intelligence agency. Even today, Mumbai terrorist Dawood Ibrahim allegedly lives in his palatial mansion on the Karachi beachfront, while Pakistan continues to deny he is in the country.
The distinguished US journalist also rather naively buys, through a secondary source, the cock-and-bull story of former ISI chief General Shuja Pasha, “We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaeda and the Taliban”. If that is true, will ISI answer for a number of high-profile terrorism cases: the al-Qaeda plot to plan to blow up transatlantic planes in August 2006 with liquid bombs — most of the accused in the case were of Kashmiri or Pakistani origin; the killing of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007; the killing of seven CIA officers at Camp Chapman on December 30, 2009. The al Qaeda owned up to these and many other terrorism incidents, while their most revered chief, bin Laden, was a ‘prisoner’ of the ISI, as Hersh writes.
“When your version comes out — if you do it — people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,” Hersh quotes former ISI chief Lt Gen Asad Durrani as saying. “For a long time, people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.” Had Seymour Hersh exercised a little more due diligence, he would not have treated Lt Gen Durrani’s words as gospel, but would have seen through the game.
Hersh’s story failed to mention the recall and dismissal of Hussain Haqqani, former ambassador to the US, after the bin Laden killing. Haqqani very narrowly escaped death as he was treated as a CIA agent and framed in the alleged Memogate scandal by none other than the then ISI chief Pasha.
One of the most appropriate descriptions of the Seymour Hersh story came from CNN’s national security analyst, Peter Bergen. Bergen commented, “What is true in the article isn’t new, and what is new isn’t true.” Outspoken Canadian intellectual Tarek Fatah, who traces his roots to India, commented on Twitter, “If the ISI can buy a US Asst Secretary of State, #SeymourHersh should have been a piece of cake for them.” He was referring to Robin Raphel, who faced an FBI inquiry for possibly providing sensitive information to Pakistan.
Gabriel Sherman of The New Yorker writes many people are wondering why Hersh’s account did not appear in The New Yorker, where Hersh has been a contributor since 1971. “In fact, the article’s stunning claims put Hersh on the wrong side of his longtime journalistic home,” writes Sherman. David Remnick, editor of the The New Yorker told Hersh to “Do a blog” when he told him he wanted to write a piece for the magazine. But Hersh recalled: “I said, ‘I don’t want to do a blog’. It’s about money. I get paid a lot more writing a piece for The New Yorker [magazine] ... I’m old and cranky.”
Ahmar Mustikhan is a senior US-based Balochistan journalist The views expressed here are those of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of the paper