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Pakistan allegedly helped bin Laden to gain U.S. aid

Tuesday - 6/7/2011, 7:54am  ET

AP: 1d10f896-a169-46de-b3f9-ce5e55861a2a
FILE - This April 1998 file photo shows exiled al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden's personal files revealed a brazen idea to hijack oil tankers and blow them up at sea last summer, creating explosions he hoped would rattle the world's economy and send oil prices skyrocketing, the U.S. said Friday, May 20, 2011. (AP File Photo)

J.J. Green, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Pakistan learned a hard lesson after the Soviet-Afghan war ended in 1989 and the U.S. abruptly terminated its covert support for the Afghan rebels: A large portion of that support was provided through and with the help of Pakistan.

Noman Benotman, who fought on the front lines in that conflict along with the Mujahedeen and Osama bin Laden's associates, says the Pakistani government is allowing a certain amount of terrorism to exist in order to maintain the support of the U.S.

"If they manage to develop a strategic partnership with the U.S. beyond any existing conflict around the area, it will help them to sort out the problem with India."

India and Pakistan have argued -- without resolution -- over ownership of the Kashmir region since the 1940s.

According to U.S. government documents, approximately $18 billion in aid has been supplied to Pakistan since 2001.

"In 1992 when the Mujahedeen conquered Kabul and they destroyed Communism, the whole world turned its back on Pakistan," says Benotman, now a fellow with the London-based Quilliam Foundation.

"Pakistan was left alone struggling with all the conflicts there, and re-building Afghanistan, civil war and the Mujahedeen -- the Afghan Arabs were all over the place. Pakistan learned a lesson from that."

In the years after that war, Pakistan, facing a long-standing threat from India, which had acquired nuclear weapons, sought to restore the stability the U.S. presence and money had provided. The creation of the terror-linked Taliban and extending Pakistan's relationship with the Haqqani network was reportedly the answer.

"The Haqqani network is like FedEx," says Robert Young Pelton, author and terrorism expert. "If you have to ship something across the border, whether it's people, weapons or suicide vests ... they take care of that and they control both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and they are very, very embedded with the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)."

Pelton says the U.S. used the Haqqani network during the Soviet-Afghan war.

When the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan's help was again in demand. Benotman says the Pakistani government, led by Pervez Musharraf at the time, knew it was an important opportunity it had to grab and hold.

"Forget about the sexy words about cooperation and everybody being equal," Benotman says. "The United States of America is the most powerful country in the world and it is not easy to attract its attention and to get it involved in your own problem."

Osama bin Laden provided a unique opportunity for Pakistan. Hiding him and using him as a method to attract U.S. attention was allegedly their plan since they learned of his whereabouts. When and where that happened, the U.S. still doesn't know. Pelton says the same pragmatism the U.S. used on Pakistan after the Soviet-Afghan war has been used to turn the tables on the U.S.

"The ISI has been helping us furiously get rid of insurgents that are trying to overthrow the Pakistani government. We have a predator base in Sind or Baluchistan and we have a long successful history of going after the Tehrik-i-Taliban along the border in South Waziristan, but in North Waziristan, the area where the Haqqani [network] rules and the Zadrans [tribe] are in charge, has always been off limits."

"ISI has used us as a cleaning service to get rid of their smaller insurgencies that threaten the government, but have kept us away from the people that we really want, which are people that are supporting troops and guns and weapons that kill American soldiers," Pelton says.

The Haqqani network eventually became Osama bin Laden's shield against those seeking to capture or kill him and is a key player in U.S./Pakistani/Afghan relations.

Some experts think the Haqqani network may now become a target of U.S. drones.

However, Pelton says he talks to them all the time "and they don't seem that worried about predators and generally being wiped off the face of the earth."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the network became Osama bin Laden's shield against those seeking to capture or kill him and is still believed to be harboring Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatar, founder and leader of the Hezb-e-Islami political party and paramilitary group.

"If you want proof that the ISI is not our friend, ask them to cough up these three people," Pelton says.

Benotman says if Pakistan can resolve the Kashmir dispute with India, most of its national security issues would be sorted out.

Benotman says Pakistan is not the only country using the tactic.

"I'm aware of many countries that create their own groups, and they arrested people, and I'm 100 percent sure because I know some people whose names have been mentioned as leaders of the group and I haven't a doubt that they have nothing to do with it."

The Pakistani government was contacted about the allegations, but did not respond to WTOP's request for an interview.

Follow J.J. Green on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)