Amidst a growing global chorus of discontent regarding Osama bin Laden’s presence in a major garrison town of Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani launched a counterattack on Wednesday, saying spy agencies around the world share the blame for the failure to capture the world’s most wanted man for close to a decade.
“Certainly, we had an intelligence failure, but this was a failure of the whole world, not just Pakistan,” Gilani told reporters in Paris, where he also met French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s visit to France was cut short abruptly – he will now return to Islamabad on Thursday instead of Friday. No reason was provided for the sudden change in plans.
The premier’s visit to France comes on the heels of mounting global criticism of Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism after US forces killed Bin Laden in a unilateral operation in Abbottabad.
The country had been sharing intelligence with the United States all this while, he said, adding “if somebody points out that there are … lapses from the Pakistan side, [it] means there are lapses from the whole world.”
“Everyone shares in our victories but step back and blame us when there are setbacks,” he said.
He said he had travelled to France since he wanted to inform the French of Pakistan’s position on the fight against terrorism.
Addressing the French media, Gilani reiterated that Pakistan was aware that Bin Laden moved around after 9/11 but did not know his exact location.
When asked if Pakistan would investigate the obvious intelligence failure, Gilani said investigations have ‘possibly been initiated already’.
He said Pakistan had paid a heavy price for its involvement in the US-led “war on terrorism”, with more than 30,000 Pakistanis killed since fighting in Afghanistan began.
“I told President Sarkozy Pakistan has no other interest but to see normalcy returning to Afghanistan, so that the transition is completed smoothly by 2014,” he told reporters after meeting Sarkozy at the majestic Elysee Palace presidential offices.
Sarkozy had agreed to help enhance the capacity of the Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies and support Pakistan in its quest for civil nuclear agreements, given the energy crisis in Pakistan, he added.
“We should have positive messages because no one, no single nation, alone can fight terrorism. Pakistan is a part of the solution and not a part of the problem,” he said.
Gilani said he had delivered the same message to British Prime Minister David Cameron and to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, whom he met in Paris on Tuesday.
Juppe told a news conference on Tuesday it was hard to imagine how bin Laden could have gone unnoticed living in a large compound in a relatively small city in Pakistan.
Earlier, the premier’s delegation met the French President of the Senate Gerard Larcher who assured Gilani that “[the French leadership] are with you in fighting terrorism.”
Pakistan has the resolve to fight terrorism but lacks the capacity of law enforcement agencies, modern equipment and economic stability, said Gilani in a press briefing after the meeting.
“Al Qaeda has declared Pakistan its number one target. Therefore, we need cooperation and support from our friends to help build capacity to fight it,” he said, adding that blame game and negative messages through the media will only serve to hamper Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism.
Meanwhile, admitting that “Pakistan has greater responsibility as frontline state in fight against terrorism,” Larcher said that “Pakistan’s economy needs to be strengthened.”
He added that Bin Laden’s capture “was an achievement of the fight we fought together.”
The premier tried to assuage the security concerns of French businessmen, saying that Pakistan was plagued by ‘exaggerated’ and ‘misleading’ perceptions.
“If you see Pakistan only through the prism of terrorism and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, you will never see the real Pakistan,” he said while addressing a gathering of Medef (movement of the French enterprises), the largest union of employers in France that has more than 700,000 member firms.
Pakistan has lucrative business opportunities for foreign investors, especially in the agriculture sector, he said.
He added that over 700 foreign companies present in Pakistan – including over 13 from France – would not have progressed in Pakistan if the country did not present a profitable business opportunity.
A memorandum of understanding was also signed between Pakistan and France, establishing a business council in the private sector. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2011.