Prime Minister Imran Khan referring to slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as "martyred" last year was a "slip of the tongue", Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said, stressing that the government's position regarding the terrorist entity is clear.
Speaking on Geo News programme Jirga, to be aired on Sunday, Chaudhry said Pakistan had voted in favour of Al Qaeda being listed on the terrorist list at the United Nations and that it followed international law.
"It was a slip of the tongue. He had clarified it," the minister said while referring to the premier's remarks.
In June last year, while speaking about the country's relations with the United States in an all-encompassing speech in the parliament, Prime Minister Imran had said Pakistan had to face a lot of "humiliation" despite supporting Washington in the 'war on terror' and was then blamed for the US's failures in Afghanistan.
Recalling an incident that he said caused "embarrassment" to Pakistan, the premier had said: "The Americans came to Abbottabad and killed, martyred Osama bin Laden. What happened after that? The entire world cursed at us and spoke ill of us."
At the time, the opposition had lambasted Imran for his remarks, with PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari saying the prime minister's choice of words was consistent with "his history of appeasement to violent extremism".
However, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Political Communication Dr Shahbaz Gill had defended Prime Minister Imran, saying he had twice used the word “killed” for bin Laden (in addition to martyred).
The controversy surfaced again last week when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi refrained from calling Osama bin Laden a terrorist in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News.
When the interviewer quoted Prime Minister Imran as calling bin Laden a “martyr”, Qureshi said: “Well, again. Out of context. He (the PM) was quoted out of context. And, a particular section of the media pair it up.”
Asked if he would disagree, the foreign minister paused for a while and then said: “I will let it pass.”
When asked about Qureshi's remarks by anchor Saleem Safi, Chaudhry said the foreign minister's refusal to call bin Laden a terrorist might have had to do with his desire to "move forwards, instead of looking at the past".
The information minister said a clarification had been issued last year by Prime Minister Imran's spokesperson after his remarks. He emphasised that Pakistan had rendered the most sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
"Our position is entirely clear," he said, adding that "when our own media exaggerate things then, of course, the foreign [media] will pick them up from local sources."