In his first statement since the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stoutly defended Pakistan's military and intelligence agency and indirectly criticized the U.S. for bin Laden's presence in the country. This photograph was provided by Pakistan's Press Information Department.
In his first statement since the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stoutly defended Pakistan's military and intelligence agency and indirectly criticized the U.S. for bin Laden's presence in the country. This photograph was provided by Pakistan's Press Information Department. AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani delivered an address to the nation that was expected to be an accounting of the security lapse that allowed al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden to hide for six years in the garrison town of Abbottabad. Instead the speech stoutly defended Pakistan's military and intelligence agency and indirectly criticized the U.S. for bin Laden's presence in the country.
Gilani said bin Laden's death in the covert U.S. raid last week was "indeed justice." But in his first statement since the U.S. operation, he was stern with the U.S., saying Pakistan reserved the right to "retaliate" against any future "unilateral strike."
"Our people are rightly incensed on the issue of violation of sovereignty as typified by the covert U.S. air and ground assault," he said. "No one should underestimate the resolve and capability of our nation to defend our sacred homeland."
The allegation gaining currency last week, in a vacuum of official silence, was that Pakistan's security establishment knew where bin Laden was hiding. Gilani, however, brushed aside the charge of complicity by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence spy agency or incompetence by the military that failed to interdict the U.S. mission on May 2.
"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-Qaida," he said.
In his spirited defense, Gilani added that "no other country in the world and no other security agency has done so much to interdict al-Qaida than the ISI and our armed forces."
Gilani acknowledged there had been an intelligence failure, which, as he has said before, the entire world shared. But he did not explain how bin Laden remained sequestered in Pakistan for years.
Instead, in his account of the history of al-Qaida he blamed the U.S. for having helped Islamist militants take root in Pakistan by helping support the jihad that ousted the Soviets from Afghanistan.
"Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for the blunders of others," he said. "Pakistan is not the birthplace of al-Qaida. We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan."
Gilani said the government would investigate the intelligence failure, a failure the Dawn newspaper said "allowed terrorists to strike with impunity and external forces to enter the country undetected." He said Lt. Gen. Javed Iqbad, a close aide of Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, would conduct the investigation. The military will brief an in camera joint session of Parliament on Friday.
Najmuddin Shaikh, a former Pakistani foreign secretary and ambassador to the U.S., said if there is a "whitewash, then Pakistan is storing up trouble for itself."
Analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi says the government already appears to have chosen a troublesome course. He says the prime minister has courted anti-American sentiments to distract from the government's own shortcomings. He says it's an effective tool in a country where the U.S. is seen as increasingly arrogant and unyielding, but it's one that is dangerous in the long term.
"You don't talk of terrorism. You don't talk of militancy," Rizvi said. "You don't talk of what Osama was saying about Pakistan. You just talk against America."
Still, public anger with the country leadership's is undiminished one week later.
At the Raja market in Rawalpindi, 62-year-old Shaikh Mohammad Aslam said he was "furious" over what he called government "incompetence."
"Osama was present here," he says. "Why did they not know? Why did President [Asif Ali] Zardari not know? Why did the prime minister not know?"
Aslam called the rulers of Pakistan "traitors" who "lick the feet of the Americans."
"Why did the chief of our army not know? Why did the ISI chief not know? They get big salaries," Aslam said. "They live on our taxes and this is their intelligence?"
In a sign of a deepening rift between the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the U.S., the CIA station chief in Islamabad was identified in the Pakistani media over the weekend. The name very likely would have been leaked to the paper by the Pakistani government. The CIA declined to comment on the possible leak, but a U.S. official said there are no plans to bring the chief American spy here home.