ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Monday that his country was not the birthplace of al Qaeda and could not be held accountable alone for the creation of the terror network.
While addressing the Parliament, the prime minister said that Pakistan has full confidence in its military and intelligence and widespread allegations of official complicity or incompetence over Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad hideout were “absurd”.
Gilani told Parliament that the country was “united in our resolve to eliminate terrorism” and determined not to allow its soil to be used for militancy.
Gilani said unilateral actions such as the US Navy SEALs swoop on Obama's hideout run the risk of serious consequences, but added Pakistan attached high importance to its relations with Washington.
“We are determined to get to the bottom of how, when and why about OBL's presence in Abbottabad,” he said. “Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We emphatically reject such accusations.”
Gilani also bowed to domestic opposition of America's covert action on Pakistani soil, saying: “Unilateralism runs the inherent risk of serious consequences.” The premier has been under mounting pressure from both Washington and his own people after bin Laden was confirmed to have been living in an urban compound only 55 kilometres (35 miles) from Islamabad.
Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led war against Taliban militants in Afghanistan, but there has been an outcry in the US with President Barack Obama saying the terror kingpin must have had some kind of backing.
“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” Obama, speaking on the matter for the first time, told the CBS show “60 Minutes”.
“But we don't know who or what that support network was. 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.”
Helicopter-borne US Navy SEALs carried out a raid lasting less than 40 minutes, killed bin Laden and seized a vast haul of data from his compound in Abbottabad on May 2.
Senior US officials have said they had no proof that Islamabad knew about bin Laden's hideout.
But outraged US lawmakers have voiced suspicion that elements of Pakistan's military intelligence services must have known his whereabouts, and are demanding that billions of dollars in American aid be suspended.
Similarly, Pakistanis are furiously asking whether their military was too incompetent to know bin Laden was there or, worse, conspired to protect him, while at the same time denouncing the perceived impunity of the American raid.
Gilani sought to deflect the criticism, blaming “all intelligence agencies of the world” for the failure to locate bin Laden, and declaring: “Pakistan is not the birthplace of Al-Qaeda.”
In a thinly veiled allusion to US funding for Pakistan's role in the 1990s war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, which ultimately gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Gilani said it was unfair for Pakistan to take all blame.
“Collectively, we must acknowledge facts and see our faces in the mirror of history. Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for flawed policies and blunders of others,” he said in his televised speech.
“We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan.” Hundreds of Taliban rallied in the Pakistani tribal town of Wana on Monday, condemning the killing and vowing revenge against both Washington and Islamabad.
It was the first pro-bin Laden demonstration in Pakistan's tribal belt, which Washington has called a headquarters of Al-Qaeda.
The debacle has been a serious embarrassment for Pakistan's powerful military establishment, and Islamabad's civilian leadership has been left reeling.
Pakistan's military has hit back at the allegations, demanding that the United States cut its troop presence in the country to a “minimum” and threatening to review cooperation if another unilateral raid is conducted.
Gilani also insisted Pakistan reserves the right to “retaliate with full force,” although he stopped short of spelling what, if anything, would be done if the US staged another unilateral high-profile anti-terror raid.
The White House says President Barack Obama reserves the right to take action again in the country.
In his interview, broadcast Sunday, Obama held out the possibility of further action, saying that the vast haul of data gathered from bin Laden's compound could lead to other Al-Qaeda figures.
“We've got a chance to, I think, really deliver a fatal blow to this organisation, if we follow through aggressively in the months to come,” he said.
“We anticipate that it can give us leads to other terrorists that we've been looking for a long time, other high-value targets.” White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has said the United States was focusing its attention on bin Laden's longstanding deputy, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.