Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq took office as the head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in October 2001, and by the time he retired six years later he had risen to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.* Those positions placed him at the center of the post-9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden and prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, in which the relationship between Pakistan and the United States on intelligence and military matters was a roller coaster of collaboration and suspicion. Haq spoke with Foreign Policy's Charles Homans in London -- where the general was addressing reporters at a Thomson Reuters Foundation seminar on security and terrorism -- about the Afghanistan war, Pakistan's recent security troubles, and just how much the ISI knew about where bin Laden was.
Foreign Policy: Where were you when you heard about the 9/11 attacks?
Ehsan ul-Haq: On 9/11 I was corps commander* in Peshawar, with responsibility for the western border with Afghanistan and security in the tribal areas of Pakistan and our northwestern province, what is now called Khyber-PK. And of course, it was shocking news for everybody -- it was for me personally. And I didn't realize how much it would impact on my personal life, how the world would change, how Pakistan would change.
FP: From there to the end of your tenure in 2007, what was your understanding or suspicion of where bin Laden was?
EH: I was asked [to take over as lead of the ISI] on Oct. 7, 2001, when the bombing of Kabul began.… Of course, our awareness of al Qaeda at that stage was very limited because al Qaeda was not operating in Afghanistan -- it was an Arab phenomenon. Yes, it was transiting through Pakistan and Iran and other countries, but since they had not really operated in Pakistan, so we were not much aware of its dimensions, its role, its intentions, its objectives-these were things that were new to us, and it took time for us to really reconcile with it. But very quickly, we did achieve very substantial successes and close cooperation with other intelligence services, particularly the CIA.
As far as Osama bin Laden is concerned, frankly speaking, after Tora Bora we only heard the information that was shared with us at the time. After that, there were never any authentic reports on Osama bin Laden until his killing in Abbottabad.
FP: Did you have suspicious as to where he would have been?
EH: There were all sorts of insinuations; there were all sorts of assessments … that [bin Laden] might possibly have been killed … [or] that he was possibly in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There was sometimes a finger raised that he was in Pakistan. We would reject that and say simply, "Look, if you have information that he is in Pakistan, say he is in Pakistan. If you don't have information, to say that since there is no information, therefore he is in Pakistan, is not fair." My view was, we don't know where he is, so he may well be here, or he may be in Afghanistan, or he may be anywhere. But since we don't know, to conclude … he is in Pakistan is wrong.