Former Pakistani PM met Bin Laden discussed Jihad - says ex intelligence agent
March 22, 2006
PAKISTAN: FORMER PM NAWAZ SHARIF DID MEET BIN LADEN, SAYS EX-INTELLIGENCE AGENT
Karachi, 20 March (AKI) - (Syed Saleem Shahzad) - Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif did meet al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at least three times in order to get financial help, according to Khalid Khawaja, the former official with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In an exclusive interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Khawaja, once a close friend of Osama bin Laden, rejected the statements by a spokesperson for Sharif's political party, denying that Sharif had sought political cooperation from bin Laden in the past.
"Nawaz Sharif met Osama Bin Laden on at least three occasions and was desperately seeking his financial assistance," Khawaja told AKI in response to recent news reports regarding a possible meeting between the two.
In an interview with a national Urdu daily, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the leader of the largest Islamic party in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and of the six party religious alliance MMA, said that Nawaz had repeatedly met Osama bin Laden who offered him money to buy the loyalties of parlimentarians in the late 1980s in order to topple the government of then prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Ahmad also said that bin Laden was a big supporter of Nawaz Sharif's bid to be prime minister in 1990.
Soon after the publication of the interview, the information secretary of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Siddiqul Farooq, denied any contact between Nawaz Sharif and Osama bin Laden.
"Osama is above all this politicking," said Khawaja. "He is a great man and will remain great. Even if Nawaz Sharif's party refuse to admit a contact between Osama and Nawaz, it will not change the facts which were witnessed by many people including Khayyam Qaisar (Nawaz Sharif's personal staff officer) and myself," Khalid Khawaja maintained.
Khalid Khawaja is a retired squadron leader of the Pakistan Air Force who was an official in Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, in the mid 1980s. After he wrote a critical letter to General Zia ul-Haq, who ruled Pakistan from 1977 till 1988, in which he labeled Zia as hypocrite, he was removed from the ISI and forced to retire from the airforce.
He then went straight to Afghanistan in 1987 and fought against the Soviets along side with Osama Bin Laden, developing a relationship of firm friendship and trust.
Khalid Khawaja's name resurfaced when US reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted and subsequently killed. Pearl had come to Pakistan and met Khalid Khawaja in order to investigate the jihadi network of revered sufi, Syed Mubarak Ali Gailani.
"Actually the situation needs to be understood from very beginning as everybody has got the facts intermingled" Khawaja maintained.
"Soon after the plane crash of then President General Ziaul Haq in August 1988, I was fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The biggest challenge before us was to save Afghan Jihad as in the post-Zia period the victory of the secular Pakistan Peoples Party was like writing on the wall."
"So initially a few Pakistanis, including myself, planned an alliance which would be dominated by Islamic parties and also include the moderate Pakistan Muslim League. We wanted clear domination of hardline religious parties so that moderate Muslim League would not deviate from the cause of Jihad," Khawaja asserted.
"A businessman, Tanveer Sheikh, Dr Adil of Jamia Farooqia, Karachi and myself were the three person who initiated this task. Tanveer Sheikh provided the seed money and we established an office in a bungalow in an upmarket neighborhood of Karachi.
"At that time we had zero percent support from ISI. Though they knew of our plan and we both used to exchange notes as well" he said.
"We had meetings with all top religious figures ranging from Mufti Rafi Usmani to Maulana Fazlur Rehman and finally brought them together under the umbrella of Muttahida Ulema Council (United Islamic Scholars Council)."
"However, the irony of this situation was that when all there was a ground-swell for a broader Islamic alliance the ISI hijacked the whole plan and deviated partners into IJI (Islamic Democratic Alliance).
Even then, Khawaja said, they did not give up and tried to outwit Benazir Bhutto . We met Altaf Hussain of MQM and he agreed to vote against Benazir Bhutto, then we tried to cut a deal between Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz was ready to give a big share to Fazl in power but Fazl insisted on premiership. As a result of these differences, Benazir Bhutto prevailed and with a very simple majority formed her government in 1989" Khawaja recalled.
"Now after Benazir Bhutto formed her government and the opposition parties moved for a vote of no-confidence, Osama Bin Laden comes in a picture," Khawaja recalled.
"However, let it be clear that Osama is Mujahid. His aim was not to manipulate Pakistani politics. His whole life revolves around the cause of Jihad" he said.
"I still remember that Osama bin Laden provided me with funds, which I handed over to Nawaz Sharif, then the chief minister of Punjab [and later premier], to dislodge Benazir Bhutto. Nawaz Sharif insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with the "Sheikh", which I did in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz met thrice with Osama in Saudi Arabia. "
The most historic was the meeting in the Green Palace Hotel in Medina between Nawaz Sharif, Osama and myself, Khayyam Qaiser is the witness for that meeting in which Khayyem, the personal staff officer tried to take a photograph but Osama's friends there stopped him.
Osama asked Nawaz to devote himself to "jihad in Kashmir". Nawaz immediately said, "I love jihad." Osama smiled, and then stood up from his chair and went to a nearby pillar and said. "Yes, you may love jihad, but your love for jihad is this much." He then pointed to a small portion of the pillar. "Your love for children is this much," he said, pointing to a larger portion of the pillar. "And your love for your parents is this much," he continued, pointing towards the largest portion. "I agree that you love jihad, but this love is the smallest in proportion to your other affections in life."
These sorts of arguments were beyond Nawaz Sharif's comprehension and he kept asking me. "Manya key nai manya?" [Agreed or not?] He was looking for a grant of 500 million rupee [US 8.4 million dollars at today's rate]. Though Osama gave a comparatively smaller amount, the landmark thing he secured for Nawaz Sharif was a meeting with the [Saudi] royal family, which gave Nawaz Sharif a lot of political support, and it remained till he was dislodged [as premier] by General Pervez Musharraf [in a coup in 1999]. Saudi Arabia arranged for his release and his safe exit to Saudi Arabia,"
"Now with these immortal accounts secured in my memory I see the denials published in newspapers, that Nawaz had nothing to do with Osama, and I think "how can people forget their mentors?". Nawaz proudly said that he is friend of US president Bill Clinton and but denies his association with a revered holy figure like Osama Bin Laden," Khalid Khawaja concluded
Syed Saleem Shahzad/Aki)
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