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Under fire, Pakistan's PM to address nation on bin Laden death - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Political rivals took aim at Pakistan’s leaders on Monday over the killing of Osama bin Laden, compounding U.S. pressure over the al Qaeda leader’s hideout, as the prime minister prepared to address parliament on the crisis for the first time.

Pakistan’s main opposition party is stepping up calls for the prime minister and president to resign over the breach of sovereignty by U.S. special forces who slipped in from Afghanistan to storm the compound where bin Laden was holed up.

“We want resignations, not half-baked explanations,” an official of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League told the News daily.

Pakistan welcomed the death of bin Laden, who plotted the September 11, 2001, airliner attacks on the United States, as a step in the fight against militancy but also complained that the U.S. helicopter raid to kill him was a violation of its sovereignty.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who will make his statement when parliament sits at 1200 GMT, is expected to deliver a stern warning against further military missions inside Pakistan by foreign forces.

The incident has added to strains in ties between Islamabad and Washington, which are crucial to combating Islamist militants and the war in Afghanistan.

TENSE RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON

Relations were already fragile after a string of diplomatic disputes over issues including a big attack by a U.S. drone aircraft in March and Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore in January.

Potentially stirring tension further, a Pakistani TV channel and a newspaper published what they said was the name of the undercover CIA station chief in Islamabad.

The U.S. embassy declined to comment, but said no one of that name worked at the mission in Pakistan.

Last year, after the chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was named in a U.S. civil case over attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, the then-head of the CIA’s Islamabad station was named by Pakistani media and he was forced to leave the country.

Islamabad has been embarrassed by the discovery of the world’s most-wanted man in a high-walled compound in Abbottabad town, just 50 km (30 miles) north of the capital and a short distance from Pakistan’s main military academy. It has led to accusations of either incompetence on the part of its intelligence service, or complicity in sheltering him.

“If he was really living in that compound for five years … then why didn’t our agencies discover him?” former foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri told reporters. “This has given anti-Pakistani elements a chance to ridicule us.”

Gilani has blamed bin Laden’s evasion of capture for nearly a decade since the September 11 attacks on a “global intelligence failure,” and the United States has stopped short of accusing Pakistan of providing shelter to bin Laden.

OBAMA SUSPECTS SUPPORT NETWORK

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that bin Laden likely had “some sort” of a support network inside Pakistan, but added it would take investigations by Pakistan and the United States to find out just what the nature of that support was.

“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was,” Obama said.

“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,” he added.

The government’s opponents at home are incensed more about the humiliation of an unannounced swoop by helicopter-borne foreign forces in Pakistan than they are about the possibility that establishment insiders knew where bin Laden was hiding.

“I think it is a big blow to Pakistan’s sovereignty, Pakistan’s independence and Pakistan’s self-respect,” former Prime Minister Sharif told reporters in Lahore. “Pakistan is in a grave crisis and is surrounded by big danger.”

Suspicion has deepened that the pervasive ISI, which has a long history of contacts with militant groups, may have had ties with the al Qaeda leader — or that some of its agents did.

Talat Masood, a retired general and defense analyst, said that if there was official collusion to keep bin Laden secure it was most likely provided at a local level.

“I feel definitely there were influential people who were protecting him,” he told Reuters. “I believe there was real ignorance at the highest level but there was collusion at the local level.”

DOUBTS ABOUT BIN LADEN’S INFLUENCE

Pakistani security officials reacted with skepticism to a U.S. assertion that bin Laden was actively engaged in directing his far-flung network from his Abbottabad compound.

Washington has said that, based on a trove of information that would fill a small college library seized in the raid, the hide-out was an “active command and control center” for al Qaeda where he was involved in plotting attacks on the United States.

Pakistani officials said the fact that there was no Internet connection or even telephone line into the compound where he was hiding raised doubts about his centrality to al Qaeda.

“It sounds ridiculous,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. “It doesn’t sound like he was running a terror network.”

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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