Pakistan PM says country not in cahoots with al-Qaida
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Amid growing U.S. and Pakistani suspicions, Pakistan’s prime minister yesterday dismissed as “absurd” American allegations that the nation’s powerful military was “complicit or incompetent” in the case of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who was killed a week ago by Navy SEALs in a compound 35 miles from Pakistan’s capital.
Even as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke, however, some U.S. officials expressed anger that once again the name of the top U.S. spy in Pakistan had been disclosed by Pakistani news organizations in what some say might have been retaliation for the raid.
In his first address to parliament since bin Laden’s death, Gilani said a three-star general would lead an inquiry into the “how, when and why” of bin Laden’s yearslong stay in Abbottabad, home to Pakistan’s most prestigious military academy and the headquarters of two Pakistani army regiments.
But he made it clear that he did not expect the investigation would find that the military or Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, had conspired to keep bin Laden’s presence a secret.
“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 the al-Qaida,” Gilani said. “It was al-Qaida and its affiliates that carried out hundreds of suicide bombings in nearly every town and city of Pakistan and also targeted political leaders, state institutions, the ISI and the General Headquarters” of the military.
Whether the results of the investigation will be made public wasn’t clear, but past inquiries by the military have been kept secret. So far, no officials have been fired over the episode, and few expect senior heads to roll.
Since the May 2 raid on the Abbottabad compound, Pakistani authorities have said little about bin Laden in the face of intense speculation that the armed forces or the ISI must have played a role in keeping him hidden.
In an interview on Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Obama said bin Laden must have had a “support network” in Pakistan, though U.S. officials have said they have yet to find any evidence tying the Pakistani government to bin Laden.
CIA Director Leon Panetta reportedly told members of Congress last week that the Pakistani government either knew of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad or was incompetent because it was unaware of it.
The United States didn’t inform the ISI or the Pakistan army in advance of the raid out of concern that Islamist elements might tip off bin Laden, a decision that angered the country’s top generals.
Retaliating for that slight might be one reason the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad was broadcast on Friday by ARY, a television channel, and published the following day in The Nation, a right-wing daily, one U.S. official said.
“We suspect it’s retaliation,” said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “That’s certainly one of the most plausible explanations for it.”
But a Pentagon official said he was uncertain that the leak was the work of Pakistan’s military or intelligence service.
U.S. officials long have charged that ISI and Pakistani army officers secretly have patronized Islamic militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban and other al Qaida-allied organizations fighting U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan vehemently denies the allegation.
The U.S. official declined to confirm the accuracy of the station chief’s name.
It’s the second time in five months that the name of the top U.S. intelligence officer in Pakistan has been made public, although this time, the station chief will not be ordered home like the last time, the U.S. official said.