What did Musharraf know?

His memoirs, written while he was still military president of Pakistan, are a fascinating source of

How much did Pervez Musharraf and his then head of intelligence (from 2004-2007), Ashfaq Kayani, now head of the army, really know? Musharraf's 2006 memoir, In the Line of Fire, suggests they may have had more than an inkling that Abbottabad was something of an al-Qaeda hotbed.

As president of Pakistan, Musharraf describes how the army was pursuing Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the alias of Mustafa Muhammad, who, after the death of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had stepped into his role as number three in al-Qaeda. Musharraf held Libbi responsible for attempts on his life while he was president of Pakistan.

He writes that they narrowly missed Libbi in April 2004.

The second miss was again in Abbotabad [sic]. We were tipped off that someone important in al-Qaeda was living in a house there, and that someone else, also very important, someone we were looking for, was supposed to come and meet him. We did not know that the second someone was Abu Faraj al-Libbi, but we had enough information to attempt an interception. Our team members stationed themselves around the house in Abbotabad. When the expected visitor turned up, the person in the house came out to meet him. But as he approached, the visitor acted suspicious and tried to run away. There was an exchange of fire, and he was killed. The visitor was not Libbi. Later, when we arrested Libbi and interrogated him, we discovered his pattern: he would always send someone ahead as a decoy while he imself stayed behind to observe. He was undoubtedly watching his decoy perform the fatal pantomime of the day. (pg 258)

Musharraf narrates how they finally got Libbi in Mardan in May 2005, at a shrine.

Christina Lamb, writing in the Sunday Times on 8 May (yesterday), has more details. "Bin Laden is supposed to have been living in the house in Abbottabad since 2005-2006 when General Nadeen Taj was commandant of the military academcy. Taj (who went on to succeed Ashfaq Kayani as head of the ISI in 2007) was a close confidant of Musharraf. He was on the plane with him that was refused entry into Pakistan airspace in 1999, provoking the military coup in which Musharraf seized power."

She continues that Taj allowed a number of radical ideologues associated with jihadist groups to use Abbottabad as a transit hub, including Hafiz Saeed, head of Lashkar-e-Toiba, the organisation behind the bombings of Mumbai in 2008.

Christina Lamb's 1991 portrait of political Pakistan (Waiting for Allah) traces an ISI history that stretches back to 1972 in Afghanistan, as the organisation backed Daoud in a coup against the king Zahir Shah to begin the formation of a fundamentalist client state. After the Soviet invasion in 1979, Hamid Gul, the former head of the ISI, tried in the 1980s to get the fundamentalist (Engineer) Hekmatyar to dominate the Alliance and drive out the moderates.

There are still internet rumours that the then US ambassador, Arnie Raphael, who went down in Zia's plane when it crashed in August 1988, apparently favoured the hardline Gul to take over from Zia. In fact, it was General Beg who survived the wipe-out of military top brass and brought on elections.

Old military habits perhaps die hard. In his 2006 memoir, Musharraf refers disdainfully to "the dreadful decade of democracy" that began in 1988.

And on page page 221 the former president remarks, perhaps referring to the fact that elements in the national army were genuinely and in all innocence looking for Bin Laden: "I have said, half-jokingly, that I hope he is not caught in Pakistan, by Pakistan's troops."

Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.