published Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

PM: Failure to find bin Laden not Pakistan’s alone

Supporters of Pakistan's Muslim League burn a representation of the U.S flag Monday during an anti-American demonstration in Multan, Pakistan. Pakistan's prime minister is rejecting allegations that national authorities were either complicit in hiding al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden or incompetent in tracking him down. 
(AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)
Supporters of Pakistan's Muslim League burn a representation of the U.S flag Monday during an anti-American demonstration in Multan, Pakistan. Pakistan's prime minister is rejecting allegations that national authorities were either complicit in hiding al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden or incompetent in tracking him down. (AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

By MUNIR AHMED

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister defended his nation’s military and intelligence services on Monday and said Pakistan was not solely to blame for the failure to detect Osama bin Laden’s presence in a garrison town close to the capital.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in his first address to parliament since the covert U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida chief a week ago, lashed out at allegations Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding, though he offered no details on what the country did know about his location. He also warned the U.S. that any unilateral raids in the future would be met with “full force.”

“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,” Gilani said. “Elimination of Osama bin Laden, who launched waves after waves of terrorists attacks against innocent Pakistanis, is indeed justice done.”

New signs were emerging of Pakistan’s anger over the unilateral action taken by the U.S. in sending Navy SEALs into the country from Afghanistan in helicopters with radar-evading technology. In apparent retaliation, Pakistani media have reported what they said was the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad in a possible leak from authorities seeking to damage covert American activity in the country.

In his remarks to lawmakers, Gilani acknowledged his nation’s failure to track bin Laden but said the failure wasn’t Pakistan’s alone.

“Yes, there has been an intelligence failure,” Gilani said. “It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world.”

U.S. officials have said they see no evidence that anyone in the upper echelons of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment was complicit in hiding bin Laden. But they still have serious questions about how the al-Qaida chief was able to hole up for up to six years in the army town of Abbottabad, just 35 miles (55 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

President Barack Obama said the U.S. believes bin Laden must have had a support network inside Pakistan.

“But we don’t know who or what that support network was,” Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”

American officials have said they didn’t inform Pakistan in advance of the raid out of fear bin Laden could be tipped off.

Gilani warned the U.S., which has carried out numerous drone strikes on militant targets along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, not to try a similar covert raid in the future, saying “unilateralism runs the inherent risk of serious consequences.”

“Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force,” Gilani said. “No one should underestimate the resolve and capability of our nation and armed forces to defend our sacred homeland.”

The Pakistani military scrambled F-16 fighters and sent forces to bin Laden’s compound as soon as they were aware of the raid, Gilani said. Even though they were unable to interdict U.S. forces before they were on their way back to Afghanistan, he expressed confidence in their performance.

He said the army will conduct an inquiry into the raid and military officials will brief parliament later in May.

Pakistan is a key but sometimes unpredictable partner with Washington in combatting Islamic militants and has been an ally in the war against Taliban insurgents in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. In return, the U.S. provides the country with billions of dollars in aid.

Gilani said that relationship remained robust.

“Pakistan attaches high importance to its relations with the U.S.,” Gilani said. “Our communications at the official and diplomatic levels with the U.S., during this phase, have been good, productive and straight forward.”

But new questions about the relationship arose with the publication in Pakistani media of what they said is the name of the top CIA operative in the country — the second such potential outing of a sensitive covert operative in six months.

The Associated Press has learned that the name being reported is misspelled. Still, the publication of any alleged identity of the U.S. spy agency’s top official in this country could be pushback from Pakistan’s powerful military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency in retaliation for the American raid.

On Friday, the private TV channel ARY broadcast what it said was the current CIA station chief’s name. The Nation, a right-wing newspaper, picked up the story Saturday.

ARY’s news director, Mazhar Abbas, said the television station’s reporter gleaned the name from a source. He defended the broadcast, saying it was “based on fact” and rejected suggestions the name was leaked to the television channel by an official with a motive.

The AP is not publishing the station chief’s name because he is undercover and his identity is classified.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing CIA personnel issues, told the AP that there are no plans to remove the station chief from Pakistan.

A spokesman for Pakistani intelligence declined to comment.

Asad Munir, a former intelligence chief with responsibility for Pakistan’s militant-populated tribal areas, said very few people know the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. But he said that releasing it would not necessarily jeopardize the American’s safety.

“Normally people in intelligence have cover names,” Munir said. “Only if there is a photograph to identify him could it put his life in danger.”

In December, the CIA pulled its then-station chief out of Pakistan after a name alleged to be his surfaced in public and his safety was deemed at risk. That name hit the local presses after it was mentioned by a lawyer who planned a lawsuit on behalf of victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Suspicions have lingered that that outing was orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to avenge an American lawsuit that named its chief over the 2008 terror attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai. The Pakistani agency denied leaking the CIA operative’s name.

———

Associated Press writers Adam Goldman in Washington and Deb Riechmann and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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