Washington, July 2 : Soon after Pakistan had joined the US-led war on terror, President Pervez Musharraf had granted the US the right to launch attacks on Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, if traced in the rugged terrains of tribal areas, from across the Afghanistan border without prior permission from Islamabad.
According to the agreement, which even stands today, the CIA-operated Predator drones would strike Laden's hide-out without prior permission from Islamabad, said those privy to the agreement.
The U.S. has options for sending special operations teams into Pakistan if bin Laden's exact location is determined, but military officials said it would be the Predator, not boots on the ground, that would be dispatched to kill the al Qaeda leader.
This is because a Predator could be airborne - or redirected in flight - in a matter of minutes. In contrast, special operations forces in Afghanistan would have to be assembled, briefed on the mission and then dispatched by helicopter - a time-consuming and risky process.
By not requesting Pakistan's approval first, the U.S. would avoid the risk of breaching operational security. Washington still harbors suspicions about Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI), which helped establish pro-al Qaeda Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
The fact that Osama continue to evade arrest even after seven years, has put renewed focus on the Pakistani government's restraints on the US effort to find bin Laden, as Pakistan prohibits American military ground forces on its soil, limiting the US' presence to scores of CIA officers and paramilitary operators, reported the Washington Times.
Nadeem Kiani, spokesman at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, declined to comment on the purported bin Laden deal, but said Pakistan stands ready to move against bin Laden if he is inside the country.
According to the paper, Pakistan allowed the CIA to secretly launch missile-equipped Predators from its soil into Afghanistan during the war to oust the Taliban, and it has continued to let the agency fly the unmanned surveillance planes over Pakistan.
But, earlier this year, Musharraf rejected a Bush administration request to allow more CIA personnel into his country. Washington must coordinate planned strikes on militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where bin Laden is thought to be hiding. Bin Laden as a target is an exception to that rule, said the paper.
"What I can tell you is that the president has a strong, overarching commitment to make sure that we track down and bring to justice Osama bin Laden and other top members of al Qaeda," it quoted White House spokeswoman Dana Perino as saying while speaking to reporters.