By Arab News
By Azhar Masood
Pakistan warned the US Thursday of “disastrous consequences” if it carries out any more raids against terrorists like the one that killed Osama Bin Laden, and hit back at international allegations it might have been harboring the Al-Qaeda chief.
But the government stopped short of labeling Monday’s helicopter raid on Bin Laden’s compound an illegal operation.
Critics have expressed doubts over government claims it was not aware of the raid until after it was over or criticized it for not reacting quickly enough and shooting down the helicopters.
Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir’s remarks seemed to be aimed chiefly at addressing that criticism.
“The Pakistan security forces are neither incompetent nor negligent regarding their sacred duty to protect Pakistan,” he said. “There shall not be any doubt that any repetition of such an act will have disastrous consequences,” he said.
Bashir 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-16s when it came to know that foreign helicopters were hovering over Abbottabad, but they apparently did not get the choppers there on time. “The helicopters managed to evade our radars. The first information we received was when a helicopter crashed.”
Bashir said: “We hold CIA chief Leon Panetta in highest esteem, but we do not agree to his statement that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is incompetent.
“It’s easy to say that the ISI or elements within the government were in cahoots with Al-Qaeda. 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.
“After all, there was information within the US system about those who were ultimately responsible for 9/11, so it’s not for me to say that the US government or the CIA failed to prevent that,” he said.
Bashir insisted relations between Washington and Islamabad remained on course. “We acknowledge the US is an important friend. Pak-US relations are moving in the right direction.”
He said the blame for an intelligence failure over Bin Laden was to be shared by spy agencies all over the world, and claimed that the CIA and ISI shared intelligence, which led to the identification of Bin Laden’s hideout.
Bashir said Pakistan’s security forces have successfully broken the command and control network of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the US has no “definitive evidence” that Pakistan knew Bin Laden had been living in the Abbottabad compound, but the Pakistanis must now show convincingly their commitment to defeating the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday. According to The Associated Press, Michele Flournoy, the top policy aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told reporters that the Pakistani government should, for example, help the US exploit the material the SEALs collected inside Bin Laden’s lair.
In related news, Pakistan’s military on Thursday demanded the US reduce its troop presence in the country to a “minimum.”
According to AFP, army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani threatened to “review” cooperation with the US in the event of another similar raid.
In a statement, Pakistan’s military admitted there had been “shortcomings” in developing intelligence on Bin Laden’s whereabouts and said an investigation had been ordered.
But it said that Kayani had told army corps commanders “about the decision to reduce the strength of US military personnel in Pakistan to the minimum level,” without saying who had made the decision.
Kayani “made it very clear that any similar action violating the sovereignty will warrant a review of military, intelligence cooperation with the US,” the statement went on.