x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pakistan warns US over bin Laden raid

The fragile Pakistan-United States relationship is at a turning point after an unprecedented meeting of parliamentarians and security chiefs about the killing of Osama bin Laden in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistani parliament issued yesterday its sternest condemnation yet of the US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, further threatening already dicey relations between Islamabad and Washington.

A day after a marathon closed-door session of parliament, in which the nation's spy chief offered to resign over the Osama bin Laden affair, the Pakistani parliament slammed the US for what it called a "violation of Pakistan's sovereignty" and warned that it might sever supply lines to US troops in Afghanistan if there were further unilateral incursions.

The parliamentary resolution that emerged from Friday's 11-hour session called for a "review and revisit" of the terms of engagement with the United States. It also criticised US missile strikes in Pakistan's militant-riddled tribal areas, and said the government should consider preventing US and Nato supply trucks from using land routes in Pakistan if the strikes continue. Earlier yesterday, a US drone fired missiles at a vehicle in North Waziristan on the Afghan border killing five militants. It was the fourth drone attack since bin Laden was killed. Many analysts have long suspected that Pakistan secretly allows the drone attacks while publicly denouncing them.

The debate came hours after Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for a double suicide bombing on a paramilitary police training centre on Friday that killed 89 people in the first major attack to avenge bin Laden's death.

Washington has not accused Pakistan of complicity in hiding bin Laden but has said he must have had some sort of support network, which it wants to uncover. John Kerry, US senator chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday the US wanted Pakistan to be a "real" ally in combating militants but added that serious questions remained in their relations.

"We believe there are things that can be done better," Mr Kerry said yesterday in a visit to Mazar-i-Sharif, a large city in the north. Mr Kerry was on the first leg of a visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan to patch up relations between the wary allies which have been in turmoil since the raid. Both sides have continued to stress the importance of their security links and intelligence sharing, with the US confirming that Pakistan had granted it access to three of bin Laden's wives taken into custody after the raid.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Kerry was asked if the United States would be putting more pressure on Pakistan because bin Laden was tracked down there, and whether the US would go after the Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, who could be hiding in Pakistan as well.

Mr Kerry said only: "It's a legitimate question and it's certainly a question that's on the minds of every American and lots of other people in the world."

Taliban and al Qa'eda linked militants launch almost daily attacks in north-west Pakistan and the country's tribal belt, while suicide and bomb attacks across the country have killed more than 4,000 people since 2007. The main Taliban faction there has threatened attacks on Pakistan and the US to avenge bin Laden's death. In addition to Friday's large-scale attacks, a bus bomb yesterday killed six people and wounded 10 in an eastern Pakistani town.

The closed-door session of the parliament was remarkable in many ways, analysts said.

Historically, civilian politicians have never really asserted themselves in front of the powerful military. But Friday's proceedings that lasted into the early hours of yesterday provided the civilian MPs a rare opportunity to ask tough questions to military brass, many of whom have generally been disdainful towards the civilian leadership and have resisted attempts at civilian oversight.

Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was repeatedly asked how his intelligence apparatus did not know that bin Laden was present in the country.

When asked the question for the fifth time, the general, who had started his briefing in a blustery manner, finally lost his composure and offered to resign, according to members of the parliament who attended the session and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I am sorry", said the spy chief as he offered to resign and retire.

"It was sort of a heady experience", said one legislator. "The [director] of the ISI is usually considered a mythic figure".

During the briefing, Gen Pasha was also asked if the ISI knew the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Aiman al Zawahiri, the al Qa'eda leader and if they were also hiding on Pakistani soil. "I don't know", replied the spy chief.

Gen Pasha also denied that his spy network supported any militant organisation and also downplayed the presence of jihadi or militant sympathisers in the rank and file of the country's armed forces. "There might be isolated individuals but no networks exist", the general was quoted as saying.

There were several hours of piercing questions about how intelligence agency and the air force could not detect US helicopters during the 40-minute assault on the bin Laden compound. Even so, the joint resolution that emerged actually rallied around the Pakistani armed forces and was critical of the US and its unilateral action in killing bin Laden.

Pakistani MPs and political analysts saw these developments an encouraging.

"The time is ripe for politicians to correct some of the imbalances that exists in the civil-military relations in the country," said Omar R Quraishi, opinion pages editor of The Express Tribune, a Karachi based English daily. Khurram Dastgir Khan, an opposition member of the parliament said the special session was the first steps towards civilian oversight of the military and a recalibration of relations between Pakistan and the US.

"The [military] and the White House might be necessary but they are no longer sufficient," Mr Khan said.

He added that ordinary Pakistanis are fed up with the vicious cycle of violence that has wrecked daily life in the country. People have started questioning the utility of the alliance with the US as the country slides further into military operations and reprisal terrorist attacks and suicide bombings by militants, he said.

"There has to be an end", said Mr Khan. "This cannot go on and on".

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

With addtional reporting from Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse