Pakistan’s prime minister said Monday his nation “reserves the right to retaliate” if the U.S. attempts another raid like last week’s attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound, even as the White House said it won’t apologize for killing the terrorist leader on Pakistani soil.
In a speech to the nation’s parliament, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also described accusations that members of the Pakistani government helped conceal the al Qaeda founder’s hide-out in a military town as “absurd.” Instead, Mr. Gilani said the fact bin Laden was hiding in plain sight for at least five years was the result of an intelligence failure on the part of both governments.
Still, he praised the killing of bin Laden as just - even as the U.S. kept Pakistani officials completely in the dark about the daring Navy SEAL operation in Abbottabad.
“It is disingenuous for anyone to blame Pakistan or state institutions of Pakistan, including the [state intelligence agency] and the armed forces, for being in cahoots with al Qaeda,” Mr. Gilani told lawmakers in Islamabad. “Elimination of Osama bin Laden, who launched waves after waves of terrorists attacks against innocent Pakistanis, is indeed justice done.”
He issued a stark warning against future unilateral operations, which he said would risk “serious consequences.”
Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have been exacerbated by the May 1 SEALs raid, with American officials raising questions about possible complicity on the part of the Pakistani government, and the Pakistanis in turn criticizing the covert operation as a violation of sovereignty. The U.S. has said it did not give the Pakistani government a heads-up about the raid for fear of a leak.
Both countries are conducting investigations into what kind of support system bin Laden had in Pakistan. Thus far, Mr. Gilani’s government has refused to grant the U.S. access to bin Laden’s wives and others who were apprehended at the compound.
Many lawmakers have called on President Obama to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, but the situation is complicated by the reality that Pakistan remains a critical link in the supply chain for U.S. forces fighting in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan also possess nuclear weapons that many experts say need to be better secured - especially given the nation’s political volatility and ongoing feud with neighboring India.
On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted the U.S.-Pakistani relationship remains solid - albeit complicated.
“This relationship is too important to walk away from,” he told reporters. “But we also do not apologize for the actions that we took, that this president took. Our cooperation has been highly productive in the past, even when it hasn’t been the result of agreement on every issue.”
Mr. Gilani’s comments undoubtedly escalated what has become an increasingly public rift, and one that widened further when a private Pakistani TV network published what it claimed to be the name of the CIA’s current station chief in Islamabad. The Associated Press later reported the name was misspelled, but the leak was seen nonetheless as retaliation against the U.S. government.
Asked about the possible outing of the CIA chief, Mr. Carney refused to comment.
In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program, Mr. Obama said he doesn’t yet know “who or what that support network was” for bin Laden in Pakistan, but the U.S. is determined to find out.
“These are questions that we’re not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.”