1. Pakistan Says No to Tenet

CIA director George Tenet’s first surprise when he paid a “secret” visit to Pakistan on February 24 was that everyone knew the secret. His arrival for meetings with President Pervez Musharraf and the heads of SIS military intelligence were all over the Pakistani media, prompting Tenet to complain to his hosts that secrecy was a two-way street.

According to local news reports, Tenet’s object in Islamabad was to discuss Pakistani scientists' black market dealings in nuclear materials and the Pakistani military operation against al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Waziristan province on the Afghan border.

But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and counter-terrorism sources reveal a quite different agenda. The American spy chief laid before Musharraf Washington’s updates on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both men, Tenet said, were on the Pakistani side of the frontier in Waziristan. Moreover, the CIA chief said, the United States believed that Musharraf and his military intelligence chiefs knew precisely where the two men were hiding.

Tenet demanded the information – immediately – and put Musharraf on notice that it was only a matter of time beforel US satellites and spy planes discovered the wanted terrorists’ hideouts, either by tracing the movements of couriers bringing them food or by watching the Pakistani agents in touch with the two terrorist leaders. The United States knew all about the Pakistani military officers in close contact with bin Laden, some of whom, on rare occasions, had met him face-to-face or sent him messages via courier.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington and Islamabad, Musharraf's answer was curt and to the point: “No.”

Speaking candidly, he said it was simply a matter of life and death – his own. The Pakistani leader, who survived two assassination attempts in January and one last month, said he was as good as dead if he surrendered bin Laden. At least, Musharraf said, that was the message he received from the Saudi-born terrorist via a third party and which Pakistani intelligence confirmed. Bin Laden warned Musharraf that terrorist squads were in position in Islamabad and in other venues frequented by the president. He said they would be ordered to execute Musharraf and other top officials if the Pakistani leader gave them away to the Americans or even if US forces discovered their hideout unaided.

The president acknowledged to Tenet that US troops were closer than ever to capturing bin Laden. But, he warned of the consequences of nabbing the 9/11 mastermind: his own life would certainly be forfeit and even his country. Immediately after his assassination, Musharraf said, al Qaeda would attempt to seize control of the Pakistani army and then the country.

The Pakistani leader's refusal to cooperate in the capture of al Qaeda leaders leaves President George W. Bush on the horns of a dilemma. He must decide which is preferable, to press ahead with joint US-Pakistani military action along the Afghan frontier, knowing the chances of catching bin Laden are slim, or to build up pressure on Musharraf to force him to part with the information for collaring the al Qaeda chief.

Reporting on the Tenet-Musharraf talks, our sources report that al Qaeda and Taliban forces in their mountain fastnesses appear to have parted company and broken off operational links. Neither bin Laden nor Zawahiri are any longer in contact with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

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