Pakistan rejects claims it sheltered Bin Laden

Pakistan's prime Minister has denounced as "absurd" accusations of complicity in the sheltering of Osama bin Laden and warned yesterday that a repeat of the unilateral operation conducted by US special forces would resort in serious consequences.

In an impassioned televised address before a joint session of the parliament, Yousaf Raza Gilani said protecting the nation's sovereignty was a priority and claimed the civilian authorities had full confidence in the country's armed forces. He said a senior Pakistani army officer, Lt-Gen Javed Iqbal, would conduct an investigation into how Bin Laden had been able to live in the garrison town Abbottabad, under the noses of the military establishment, for up to six years.

"Yes, there has been an intelligence failure. It is not only us but all the intelligence agencies of the world," he said. "Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We emphatically reject such accusations."

The speech was part of an orchestrated push back by the civilian and military authorities, following a week of embarrassment and indignation triggered not only by the killing of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, less than three hours north of Islamabad, but by the fact that US forces carried out the operation without any prior warning.

"We are a proud nation. Our people value their honour and dignity," Mr Gilani said. "Our nation is resilient. Our real strength is our people and our state institutions. We all are united and fully committed to sparing no sacrifice to uphold our national dignity and honour [and] to safeguard our supreme national interests by all means and all resources at our command."

So far, no heads have rolled over the Bin Laden affair, despite speculation that the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was to be replaced. In his speech, Mr Gilani was seeking to shore up the situation for the government amid calls that someone should resign. The head of the armed forces, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, issued a statement saying he had asked the Prime Minister to speak before the parliament and said the "people of Pakistan need to be taken into confidence".

Ayesha Siddiqa, a political and military analyst and author of Military Inc, said Mr Gilani had been trying to create some political space for his government. "There are people howling for his resignation, howling for his blood. I think he was protecting himself and also projecting a sympathetic image of Pakistan," she said. "The problem is that the people who want to go after his blood will still do so. But the strategy of the government is to move inch by inch and try to create some space for itself."

With a nod to history, Mr Gilani recalled that the Mujahideen had been created by the US as it sought to undermine the Soviet Union's grip on Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan, he added, was not the birthplace of al-Qa'ida. In another reference that will likely ruffle the feathers of the US, and India, the Prime Minister said the government was delighted that China, its "all-weather friend", was making economic and technological strides that were delighting the people of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in another twist to the tense relationship between Pakistan and the US, a right-wing Pakistani newspaper has printed the name of the man it claims is the head of the CIA station in Islamabad. There is widespread speculation the newspaper obtained the name from the ISI, although subsequent reports said the name printed, Mark Carlton, is wrong. Last year, the previous CIA station chief had to leave the country after he was publicly identified in a criminal complaint filed with the police by the families of people killed by US drone strikes. The naming caused outrage among US officials.

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