Pakistan acquiesces to US demand for Bin Laden probe
Pakistan, furious over insinuations that it was either incompetent or complicit in al-Qaeda’s presence in the country, has nevertheless agreed to US demands that it investigate how the terror organisation’s leader Osama bin Laden was able to live under the nose of its military for years, undetected.
But the probe’s independence is in doubt after it was announced that it would be headed by a senior military leader.
In a 30-minute address to Parliament, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani took veiled swipes at the United States and exonerated Pakistan’s military of complicity or incompetence over the world’s most-wanted terrorist.
Alluding to US funding in conjunction with Pakistan’s role in the 1990s war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, which gave birth to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Gilani said it was unfair for Pakistan to take all the blame.
“Collectively, we must acknowledge facts and see our faces in the mirror of history. Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for flawed policies and blunders of others. Pakistan is not the birth place of al-Qaeda,” he said.
“We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan.”
Pakistanis have expressed horror at the perceived impunity of the American raid that killed Bin Laden, furiously asking whether their military was too incompetent to know he was living close to a major Pakistani military academy, or, even worse, conspired to protect him.
The debacle has been one of the biggest embarrassments ever to hit Pakistan’s powerful military establishment and the civilian leadership has been left reeling, forced to explain itself in parliament.
But Gilani denounced allegations of complicity or incompetence as “absurd”, expressed “full confidence” in the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which he called a “national asset”.
Pakistan long points out that it has lost more than 5 000 soldiers in fighting Islamist militants since 2002, more than the Americans in Afghanistan, and that its ISI agents were involved in dozens of al-Qaeda arrests.
Gilani said Pakistan was “determined to get to the bottom of how, when and why” Bin Laden had been hiding out in Abbottabad, close to Islamabad.
He said an investigation had been ordered, although its independence was likely to be called into question with the appointment of Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal to lead the inquiry.
The chairperson of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, General Khalid Shamim Wyne, called on Gilani ahead of his speech, which failed to pacify opposition figures in parliament.
“The prime minister’s speech failed to satisfy the nation. It is an important issue and it is the question of Pakistan’s existence and sovereignty,” leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali told the house.
Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, heading what is perceived to be Pakistan’s strongest institution, released a statement in which he was critical of the handling of the whole affair by the fragile government.
“Public dismay and despondency has also been aggravated due to insufficient formal response,” Kayani’s statement said, urging the prime minister to call a joint session of parliament, which was later announced by Gilani for Friday.
The fact that Bin Laden was holed up for up to five years in the garrison city less than a mile from Pakistan’s top military academy and only two hours’ drive from Islamabad has deeply strained ties with the United States.
Gilani defended the relationship with Washington as a strategic partnership in both countries’ interests, but there is widespread anti-American feeling among the country’s largely Muslim population of 170 million.
The White House says President Barack Obama reserves the right to take action again in Pakistan after the May 2 hit.
Gilani insisted Pakistan also reserves the right to “retaliate with full force,” although he stopped short of spelling what, if anything, Pakistan would do should the Americans stage another unilateral high-profile anti-terror raid.
A week after Navy Seals killed the al-Qaeda leader, Obama pressed Pakistan to investigate how Bin Laden lived for years under the nose of its military, saying he must have been supported by locals or even intelligence agents.
Outraged US lawmakers have voiced suspicion that elements of Pakistan’s military intelligence services must have known his whereabouts, and are demanding that billions of dollars in American aid be suspended.
On Monday, hundreds of Taliban rallied in the town of Wana in the tribal belt, which Washington has called an al-Qaeda headquarters, vowing to avenge the al-Qaeda chief’s death and denouncing Pakistan and the United States.—AFP