Pakistan in eye of storm over Bin Laden killing

2011-05-03 11:41

Islamabad – Pakistan today faced a violent backlash over Osama bin Laden’s killing, fearing revenge attacks and struggling to fend off tough questions over how the al-Qaeda mastermind escaped detection so long.

The daring helicopter raid by dozens of US special forces – who were operating independently on Pakistani soil – ended a decade-long manhunt for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but Islamabad was kept in the dark.

The United States has again pointed the finger at Pakistan, questioning how he had been able to hide out in a fortified compound close to the nation’s capital “for an extended period of time”.

The allies have clashed repeatedly in the past with Pakistan criticising the US for infringing its sovereign territory on the Afghan border, but Pakistan’s top leaders have yet to address their people openly about the Bin Laden raid.

US officials are puzzled by the comfortable surroundings of the Abbottabad compound where Bin Laden lived, and the fact that his presence in a fortified, upscale building did not attract Pakistani authorities’ suspicions.

The US has put its embassies on alert and warned citizens of possible reprisal attacks following the shooting at the imposing villa which American intelligence agencies had been watching since last August.

It closed two of its consulates today until further notice in the eastern city of Lahore and the northwestern city of Peshawar, which is close to the tribal belt that Washington has called the global headquarters of al-Qaeda.

Among some Pakistanis there is a feeling of national shame that Bin Laden was killed on their soil at all, and even worse so near to Islamabad in a garrison town where he had lived under the noses of the military.

Pakistan’s main Taliban faction reacted angrily to the announced death of the al-Qaeda number one, promising to “avenge his death and launch attacks against American and Pakistani governments and their security forces”.

Pakistan has beefed up security across major cities, diplomatic installations and around the site of the killing in Abbottabad.

More troops were deployed in Islamabad to safeguard government offices and the city’s diplomatic enclave, while in Lahore and Karachi, the two biggest cities, extra road blocks and barbed wire were laid around sensitive buildings.

Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad – a leafy town that is home to an elite Pakistani military academy – has raised new questions about the government’s zeal for prosecuting the war on terror.

US officials made clear Pakistan was not informed about the operation in advance.

President Asif Ali Zardari convened emergency talks behind closed doors with security chiefs yesterday.

Using a newspaper editorial in the US, he sought to defend Pakistan against accusations it did not do enough to track down Bin Laden, but avoided comment on alleged intelligence failures.

“Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world,” Zardari said in The Washington Post.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, speaking on CNN, promised a “full inquiry” into how the Pakistani intelligence services failed to find Bin Laden.

It is doubtful how far Pakistan’s largerly independent and powerful intelligence service would cooperate with any investigation ordered by the civilian government.

“The fact that our intelligence did not find out, it was Americans who found him, is a reflection on the intelligence agencies and military in Pakistan,” said analyst Talat Masood.

“Pakistanis think it was a breach of Pakistan sovereignty that they came here and committed all this ... it hurts ordinary Pakistanis.”

Embarrassment over the operation could also spell trouble for the government, which rules a fragile coalition of political parties in a stalemate parliament, and embolden the opposition and religious parties.

Hundreds of people yesterday took to the streets in the southwestern city of Quetta, close to neighbouring Afghanistan, to denounce America, burn a US flag and pay homage to the al-Qaeda mastermind.

“His martyrdom will not end the movement, it will continue and thousands more Bin Ladens will be born,” said lawmaker Maulawi Asmatullah who led the protest.


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