The dispute over access for U.S. officials to Osama bin Laden's three widows, who were taken into Pakistani custody after the raid that killed the leader of al-Qaeda, has become the latest test in the adversarial relationship between the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
Pakistan has not yet allowed U.S. investigators access to the widows, nor shared their own interrogation report, a Pakistani security official said on Tuesday. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with the rules of his organisation.
The Obama administration demanded access to the women, who appear to have been in hiding with bin Laden for years, and a U.S. official said that Pakistan had promised to comply. Yet the women may not prove to be the mine of information that some suppose because they led such cloistered lives, officials and analysts say. In line with the strict code of Islam followed by bin Laden, they never met men outside their immediate family and were not informed by bin Laden of any of his business or operational dealings.
The widows, along with the Pakistani wife of bin Laden's trusted courier, and a number of children detained at the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad remain in the hands of the Pakistani security forces, which have controlled the flow of information about them.
There are conflicting reports as to how many there are and who they are. Initial reports indicated that 12 women and children were in the compound; it now appears that there were as many as 17.
Some information given by intelligence officials appears intended to cast doubt on the account of the raid as presented by U.S. officials; none has been independently verified.
Pakistani security officials, asking to remain anonymous, say that along with the widows — two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen — there were 13 children, eight of them related to bin Laden.
The fourth woman, a Pakistani who was wounded in the raid, indicated to officials who first arrived at the compound that her husband had been killed, said Asad Munir, a retired Brigadier and former intelligence service official. Her husband appears to have been Arshad Khan, bin Laden's trusted courier, who owned the compound and protected him for more than five years.
Bin Laden's widows have been identified as Um Hamza, or Mother of Hamza, whose real name is Khairiah Sabar and is from Jidda in Saudi Arabia; Um Khalid, or Mother of Khalid, whose name is Siham and is from Medina in Saudi Arabia; and the youngest, a Yemeni, Amal al-Saddah, 29. Her passport names her as Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah.
Bin Laden's daughter with al-Saddah, Safia, who is 12 or 13 years old, is also reported to have been present and even to have witnessed the shooting of her father. Officials have also said that there is a five-year-old son of bin Laden and that four of the children are his grandchildren by a daughter killed in an airstrike in Pakistan's tribal areas.
One of his sons was killed in the raid, but reports have named him variously as Hamza or Khalid, both of whom were born in the same year from different wives and would be 22 years old.
U.S. officials have emphasised that Pakistani cooperation on access to the women would help ease the tense relations between the CIA and the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. Pakistani journalists who received a briefing from the Director-General of the ISI, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, this week said he expressed anger at being kept out of the loop with the operation.
The anger and hurt within the Pakistani military and intelligence service over America's action against bin Laden will leave cooperation bumpy for some time, foreign diplomats and analysts predicted.
The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, was placatory in comments he made at a dinner in the business city of Karachi on Monday. Mr. Munter called on the Pakistani government to engage in a conversation about the way forward.
“We have common goals, and we need to work closely to articulate these common goals clearly,” he said in comments reported by the government news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan.
“The road ahead will be based on the choices made by Pakistan,” he added. “Those choices involved the answers to questions that are raised by Pakistanis and Americans alike.” — New York Times News Service
(Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Scott Shane from Washington.)
Latest test in the adversarial relationship between the CIA and the ISI.