ISLAMABAD, May 5: Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said on Thursday Pakistan and the US continued to enjoy ‘strategic convergence’ as he sought to dispel a perception that Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s killing in an American raid had affected bilateral ties.
“The notion that Pakistan-US relations have nosedived, this is not quite our understanding. Pakistan considers its relations with the US as of high importance... I think the key word here for everybody to understand on the Pakistan-US track is that there is strategic convergence,” Mr Bashir told newsmen at the Foreign Office.
Following Osama’s killing in a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, a number of people in the US have been questioning Pakistan’s inability to detect him. It is said that the US authorities want to know how the top fugitive lived undetected. CIA Director Leon Panetta had told a Congressional panel that it was either a case of incompetence of Pakistani agencies or their complicity with Al Qaeda.
“We believe, I believe the Americans also believe that it is not wise to get distracted, tactical distractions are better avoided... My appeal to you is not to lose sight of the bigger picture,” Mr Bashir said.
The foreign secretary pointed to interactions with US officials as an indication of desire in both capitals to keep engaged. “In fact we are looking forward to the visit of Secretary Clinton to Islamabad this very month. We have just concluded an important defence consultative group meeting in Washington DC, which has issued an important statement that acknowledges the cooperation.”
He said Pakistan and the US should not be distracted by incidents like the US raid and instead focus on efforts aimed at ensuring peace, stability and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
The foreign secretary made a strong case for defending the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against the onslaught of criticism about its failure to detect Bin Laden.
“We are proud of our armed forces, of our security agencies and we are proud of the work of the Inter-Service Intelligence. It is an important arm of the government which has contributed enormously to the anti-terror campaign.”
He reminded that many of CIA’s most wanted terrorists were caught by the ISI and shared a list of some of those captured by Pakistan’s premier spy agency. These included Ramzi from Karachi, Abu Zubaida from Faisalabad in 2002, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad from Islamabad in 2003, Musaad Arouchi from Karachi in 2004, Khurfan Irani from Gujrat in 2004, Libi in 2005, and Abu Hamza, killed in the tribal area. Bali bomber Umer Patek was picked up by the ISI from Abbottabad earlier this year.
He said Pakistan’s cooperation for eliminating terror was in good faith and that blackmailing of Pakistan and its institutions would not take the war on terror anywhere. He said Pakistan expected “some decency and some civility in the public domain”.
Agencies add: Mr Bashir tried to allay suspicions that Bin Laden might have had some kind of support from Pakistan’s military intelligence services.“It’s easy to say that the ISI or elements within the government were in cahoots with Al Qaeda,” he said.
“This is a false hypothesis. This is a false charge. It cannot be validated on any account and it flies in the face of what Pakistanis and in particular the ISI has been able to accomplish,” he said.
“The Pakistan security forces are neither incompetent nor negligent about their sacred duty to protect Pakistan,” Mr Bashir said. “There shall not be any doubt that any repetition of such an act will have disastrous consequences,” he said.The foreign secretary repeated Pakistani claims that it did not know anything about the raid until it was too late to stop it. He said the army scrambled two F-16 fighter jets when it come to know that foreign helicopters were hovering over Abbottabad, but they apparently did not get to the choppers on time.
He said it was ‘absolutely wrong’ to blame the ISI. “After all there was information within the US system about those who were ultimately, eventually responsible for the 9/11 (attacks), so it’s not for me to say that the US government or the CIA failed to prevent that,” he said.