CHARSADDA, Feb 11: President General Pervez Musharraf on Saturday said that five foreign militants were among those killed in the US air-strike on a Bajaur Agency village last month.
“Investigations have proved that five foreign terrorists, some of them very important, were also among those killed in the attack.”
“I am not two hundred per cent sure. But I am 95 per cent sure of that,” President Musharraf said at a luncheon reception hosted by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao.
The president said that Al-Qaeda No 2 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri had also been invited to the dinner in Damadola but could not turn up.
He said that a close relative of al-Zawahiri who carried a $5 million bounty on his head was among those killed.
The president, who was scheduled to visit Sherpao town to address a rally in connection with the death anniversary of Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao on Monday, advanced his trip by two days due to pressing engagements in Islamabad.
The January 13 missile strike by American spy drones in Damadola village in Bajaur tribal region killed 18 people, many of them women and children.
The loss of innocent lives caused public outrage and led to street demonstrations.
Pakistan condemned the incident and lodged a protest with the US government.
But security officials later claimed that among those killed were five senior Al Qaeda figures, including its chemical and explosives expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayed alias Abu Khabab, Abu Obaidah al-Misri, Al Qaeda chief of operations for Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law Abdur Rehman al-Maghribi.
“There were foreign terrorists there,” President Musharraf said, adding that Pakistan had condemned and protested against the violation of its territorial sovereignty.
But, he said, the presence of foreign militants in Pakistan was also a violation of national sovereignty.
The president pointed out that Washington had given assurances that Bajaur-like incidents would not happen again.
NWFP Governor Khalilur Rehman and Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani were also present on the occasion.
President Musharraf said that he would place Pakistan’s interests ahead of any other thing, be it politics, democracy, human rights or the nuclear issue. “Pakistan comes first,” he said.
The president credited his government with turning around the country’s economy and taking democracy to the grassroots level.
In this connection he referred to a report in The Economist which said that Pakistan’s industrial growth was the fastest after China.
Underlining the need for water reservoirs, the president said that all dams, including the controversial Kalabagh dam, would have to be built by 2016.
“The issue is not just any dam. The issue is about water shortage and water storages.”
He said that dams would take ten years to build and he would continue in his endeavour to convince the people of Sindh on the need to build more water reservoirs.
“I will go to Sindh again and convince its people on water reservoirs,” he said.
The president visited the tomb of Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao and placed a floral wreath there. He paid rich tributes to the late Hayat Sherpao as a dynamic and progressive leader.
Incidentally, Musharraf’s elder brother was a special secretary with the late PPP leader.
CONDOLES WALI KHAN’S DEATH: Meanwhile, the president visited Wali Bagh and condoled the death of Khan Abdul Wali Khan.
The president paid tribute to Khan Abdul Wali Khan and said he was the torch-bearer of democratic principles. He said the death of Wali Khan was a great loss to the nation.
The president attended a welcome gathering in Sheikh Abad Charsadda and addressed the nazims and councillors.
The president said that all major dams would be built to resolve problems related to water and energy. The president announced a package of Rs100 million for Charsadda and sanctioned the provision of gas to PF-18.
The president extended his support to members of the local bodies and said that he would leave no stone unturned to establish democracy at the grassroots level.
The president said that they should all work together to curb extremism and fundamentalism. He stressed the need for peace and political stability.
The president urged the masses to reject extremists and extend their support to progressive and enlightened polity. Present on the occasion were Minister for Water and Power Amir Muqam, District Nazim Swabi Shehram Tarakai, District Nazim Charsadda Nasir Muhammad Khan and local dignitaries.
He said that the construction of Munda dam would revolutionize the living standard of the people of Charsadda.
The president visited Charsadda amid tight security. Hundreds of army men and police personnel were deployed for the purpose.
The interior minister expressed satisfaction over the visit and thanked the president for visiting his ancestral town despite his busy schedule. The minister said that the progressive politics of PPP Sherpao and the policies of General Musharraf were in close harmony with each other.
AFP ADDS: President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday that a close relative of Al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri was among five militants killed in a US air raid last month, but al-Zawahiri himself escaped.
Security officials said President Musharraf was referring to Abdur Rehman al-Maghribi, Zawahiri’s son-in-law and the head of Al-Qaeda’s media operations.
“Among the people who were killed in Bajaur, one of them was a close relative of Zawahiri,” Musharraf was quoted as saying by his spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan.
“Zawahiri’s son-in-law was killed in the Bajur strike,” a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that his death was confirmed through local sources in the tribal belt.
Musharraf added that one of the dead was an “important person” with a five-million-dollar bounty on his head, however Sultan said it was not clear if the president was talking about al-Zawahiri’s relative or another person.