Facing a deluge of criticism over Pakistan's failure to uncover Osama bin Laden, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani dismissed doubts about the role of the country's security establishment as he opened a special debate of Parliament on Monday night.
The covert U.S. operation that tracked the al-Qaida chief down to his comfortable hideout in the military town of Abbottabad, two hours from Islamabad, exposed Pakistan's military and intelligence agency to charges that they are unable to interdict terrorists or safeguard the country's nuclear weapons.
Heeding the public outcry over the U.S. raid and its perceived violation of sovereignty, Gilani warned Washington not to try it again.
"Let no one draw any wrong conclusions. Any attack against Pakistan's strategic assets, whether overt or covert, will find a matching response," Gilani said.
U.S. officials reason that bin Laden must have had a support network inside Abbottabad and that Pakistan must investigate. Gilani said it will be done, by the armed forces.
But prior to any investigation, the leader of a government heavily dependent on the United States for aid and military hardware refused to accept any blame and gave the military and the intelligence agency, the ISI, an all-clear.
CD vendor Tariq Iqbal Mir, 49, says Pakistan must now accelerate the process of finding and detaining other high value targets who might be hiding in Pakistan, including bin Laden's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.
CD vendor Tariq Iqbal Mir, 49, says Pakistan must now accelerate the process of finding and detaining other high value targets who might be hiding in Pakistan, including bin Laden's No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri. Abdul Sattar/NPR
Former Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Shaikh says he is confident that Pakistan's top leadership did not know of bin Laden's presence in Pakistan. But he says the entire episode has so poisoned U.S.-Pakistan relations that they may not fully recover.
"There is triumphalism in America," Shaikh said. "And there is a sense of enormous outrage in Pakistan — an outrage not merely against the United States of America, but much more so against the ISI, the army and the government."
From onion hawkers to used shoe vendors, the humble working class of Raja Market, the busiest in Islamabad's grittier twin city, Rawalpindi, was giving no quarter to the government.
Tariq Iqbal Mir, 49, sat in his CD shop, contemplating the nation's embarrassment.
Speaking Urdu, Mir said through an interpreter, "The military establishment has been ruling over us for 60 years. They should come forward and accept their incompetence and responsibility, because protecting the borders is their duty – not the president's or the prime minister's.
"A huge portion of our budget is given to the military. The ISI chief should also share the blame. Bin Laden lived for five years under his nose. He should resign, too," Mir said.
Vendor Shaikh Mohammad Aslam says had the Pakistanis done the job and found bin Laden themselves, the suspicions of the global community that Pakistan tolerates terrorists would have been put to rest.
Shaikh Mohammad Aslam, a 62-year-old vendor, says if Pakistan had captured Osama bin Laden, the country would not have been "defamed" and the U.S. and the world community "would have saluted us."
Shaikh Mohammad Aslam, a 62-year-old vendor, says if Pakistan had captured Osama bin Laden, the country would not have been "defamed" and the U.S. and the world community "would have saluted us." Abdul Sattar/NPR
"It would have made a huge difference. We would not have been defamed," he says. "The United States would have greeted us. The international community would have saluted us."
Pakistan's military and political leadership has come under enormous pressure from the Obama administration to provide credible intelligence to hunt down possible remaining fugitive al-Qaida leaders.
Mir, the bearded CD vendor, said the present security apparatus "must be overhauled," with the focus on catching whoever else may be here, including al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"The Unites States has proven its point," Mir said. "They said bin Laden was in Pakistan, and we said he's not, and now he's been recovered here.
"What will we do if al-Zawahiri is recovered from Waziristan or Quetta? Our security agencies should revamp their policy and begin the hunt."