Bin Laden not in our country, says Pakistan

Brown's claim that country is not doing enough to find al-Qa'ida leader is rejected
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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown faced a diplomatic rift with Pakistan after its Prime Minister rejected British accusations that it was not doing enough to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted his security forces had not been given any "actionable" intelligence about the al-Qa'ida leader's whereabouts and said he doubted whether bin Laden was even on Pakistani soil.

Following talks in Downing Street yesterday, Mr Gilani made no attempt to disguise his frustration with the British Prime Minister's comments. He told journalists: "I doubt the information which you are giving is correct, because I don't think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan."

Mr Gilani also queried Mr Brown's claim that three-quarters of terrorist plots aimed at the UK originated in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

"I don't agree with this information because we are fighting this war on terrorism," Mr Gilani said. "Yes, there have been Uzbeks, there have been Arabs, there have been Talibans from Afghanistan... but we have been very successful and we are extremely successful."

He was responding to comments made earlier in the week by Mr Brown, who questioned why nobody had been able "to spot or detain or get close" to bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In remarks that appear to have caused deep resentment in Islamabad, Mr Brown blamed Pakistan for the failure to capture the terror chiefs. He said: "If we are putting our strategy into place, Pakistan has to show that it can take on al-Qa'ida."

Bin Laden is thought to have escaped from his headquarters in the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan shortly after the US-led attack on the country in 2001.

Efforts to track him down have centred on the mountainous region of Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, although other reports have suggested he is hiding out in the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan.

A spokesman for Mr Brown last night insisted the Prime Minister stood by his claims, although he acknowledged that al-Qa'ida's top figures were likely to be always on the move. He said: "The al-Qa'ida leadership, including bin Laden, are probably somewhere in Pakistan's borders."

He insisted the meeting between the two leaders had been positive and amicable, adding that Britain and Pakistan were working closely to combat the terror threat.

"There is no division at all in what we are trying to achieve, which is bring to a conclusion the successful outcome of what we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan," he said. "We will not be able to achieve that if we don't work closely with Pakistan." He added Pakistan had sent 30,000 troops to the South Waziristan region to tackle militants, and the two countries were pooling intelligence and security information.

However, Mr Gilani claimed he needed "more clarity" from US forces about President Barack Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan before his country could act on it.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Brown acknowledged Pakistan's "huge sacrifices" in the fight against terrorism and announced £50m in new funding for its border regions with Afghanistan. He said: "It is important that the Prime Minister has signalled, as he has done in recent months, the real importance Pakistan attaches to dealing with these problems. I can assure him of the UK's full support in this matter. This is your fight, but it is also Britain's fight."