In what is being seen as a major damage control exercise, Pakistan has ordered a joint investigation into how al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was able to live undetected in the garrison city of Abbottabad, 40 km from Islamabad, for years.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told Parliament on Monday that army and civilian officers would jointly investigate the intelligence failure on Bin Laden hiding in the town and on the US attack on Pakistani soil, keeping Islamabad in the dark. Gilani was speaking for the first time to Parliament on the helicopter-borne Abbottabad operation by US forces that killed Bin Laden on May 2.
Gilani said Bin Laden's death in a raid by the US Navy Seals was “justice done” and insisted that the relationship with Washington was still strong. But he warned the US that future unilateral strikes could be met with “full force”.
Praising the result of the US raid, Gilani said, “Osama bin Laden was the most wanted terrorist and enemy number one of the civilised world. Elimination of Bin Laden, who launched wave after wave of terrorist attacks against innocent Pakistanis, is indeed justice done.”
Gilani also expressed confidence in Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which have been facing widespread criticism for failing to confront the US Navy commandos who conducted the helicopter raid without informing Pakistan.
The location of Bin Laden’s hideout has fuelled suspicion that Pakistani officials knew where the al Qaeda leader was hiding and may have been helping him.
Gilani vehemently rejected these allegations, saying, “It is disingenuous for anyone to blame Pakistan or state institutions of Pakistan, including the ISI and the armed forces, for being in cahoots with al Qaeda.”
“Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. Pakistan is not the birthplace of al Qaeda,” Gilani said. “We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan.”
The Pakistani military scrambled F-16 fighters and sent forces to Bin Laden’s compound as soon as they were aware of the raid, said Gilani.
But members of Parliament expressed anger at the manner in which the government had reacted to the operation, with Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar calling Gilani “a sell-out”.
(HTC, New Delhi)