BY PHIL ITTNER FROM ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Monday denied that his country’s intelligence agencies helped hide Osama bin Laden, insisting that allegations of complicity or incompetence were “absurd”.
In a speech to Islamabad’s parliament, Gilani said it was “disingenuous” for anyone to insinuate that Pakistani authorities, including the country’s spy agency, the ISI, were aligned with al-Qaida.
“We emphatically reject such accusations. Speculative narratives in the public domain are meant to create despondency,” said Gilani. “We will not allow our detractors to succeed in offloading their own shortcomings and errors of omission and commission in a blame game that stigmatizes Pakistan.”
Suspicion has deepened that ISI, which has a long history of contacts with militant groups, may have had ties with the al Qaida leader – or that some of its agents did.
US, Pakistani relations
The prime minister’s comments came after Pakistan was hit by widespread criticism following the shooting of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid a week ago.
Gilani said that bin Laden’s death in a U.S. raid was “indeed justice done” and insisted the relationship with the U.S. was still strong.
“Apprehensions are being voiced about our relations with the United States,” he said. “Let me dispel any anxiety in this regard. Pakistan attaches high importance to its relations with the US. We have a strategic partnership which we believe serves our mutual interests. It is based on mutual respect and mutual trust.”
But, he warned Washington that future unilateral strikes could be met with “full force.”
“Any attack against Pakistan’s strategic assets whether overt or covert will find a matching response,” he added. “Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force. No one should underestimate the resolve and capability.”
His comments were a bow to opponents angered by the U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan.
US raid criticized
Pakistan’s main opposition party has called on Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to resign over the breach of sovereignty by U.S. special forces.
Prime Minister Gilani assigned blame on all nations for failing to detect the terrorist leader’s lair, and ordered an investigation into how bin Laden was able to hide out in Pakistan. A top Pakistani general will lead the probe.
“This issue of the hideout needs a rational answer,” said Gilani. “Recrimination and misplaced rhetoric is self defeating. Yes, there has been an intelligence failure. It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world.”
Pakistani-U.S. relations were already fragile after a string of diplomatic disputes over issues including U.S. drone attacks on suspected terrorist hideouts inside Pakistan and Pakistan’s arrest of a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore in January. The contractor was eventually released but it further damaged the relationship between the two countries.