Finally breaking its silence on the US unilateral operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the Pakistan Army demanded on Thursday that the United States cut its troop presence in the country to a “minimum”.
In a strong-worded statement, the military said that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had told a corps commanders’ conference “about the decision to reduce the strength of US military personnel in Pakistan to the minimum level”, without saying who had made the decision.
The military further warned of “dire consequences” if the country’s sovereignty is violated again.
Kayani’s strong message came through a statement by the military’s public relations wing and in a closed door meeting with a select group of journalists. “Any similar action violating the sovereignty will warrant a review of military, intelligence cooperation with the US”, the statement said.
After being criticised globally for failing to track down Bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, the army admitted to its “shortcomings” in finding the al Qaeda chief, who had been hiding in a compound close to the Pakistan Military Academy for the past many years. The military has now ordered an investigation into the “lapse.”
Facing tough questions both at home and abroad, the top military commanders with the army chief in the chair met at the General Headquarters at Rawalpindi to discuss a one-point agenda related to the incident in which Bin Laden was killed by the US forces.
“While admitting shortcomings in developing intelligence on the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, it was highlighted that the achievements of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates in Pakistan have no parallel,” said an Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) statement after the meeting.
It said the meeting was informed that around 100 top level al Qaeda leaders and operators were killed or arrested by the ISI, with or without the CIA’s support.
However, in the case of Bin Laden, while the CIA developed intelligence based on initial information provided by the ISI, it did not share further development of intelligence on the case in return, contrary to the existing practice between the two services, it added.
“Nonetheless, an investigation has been ordered into the circumstances that led to this situation,” the statement maintained.
It quoted General Kayani as saying that a repeat of such an action will warrant a review of military and intelligence cooperation with the United States.
Responding to the apprehensions of the country’s defence capability, the corps commanders insisted that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were in safe hands. “Unlike an undefended civilian compound, our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place,” the statement noted.
“Taking serious note of the assertions made by Indian military leadership about conducting similar operations, make it very clear that any misadventure of this kind will be responded to very strongly. There should be no doubt about it.”
Meanwhile, speaking along the same lines, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said that any future “misadventure” by any country would result in a “terrible catastrophe.”
At the first news conference by a senior government official since Bin Laden was killed, Bashir said: “It’s easy to say that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or elements within the government were in cahoots with the al Qaeda,”
Further defending the ISI, the foreign secretary said: “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 Inter-Services Intelligence has been able to accomplish.”
Bashir did not directly respond to comments from the White House that US President Barack Obama reserved the right to take action again in Pakistan, but said there were “a number of questions” about how the covert raid took place.
“This matter of sovereignty and violation of sovereignty, and the modalities for combating terrorism raises certain legal and moral issues which fall properly in the domain of the United Nations,” he said, stopping short of declaring it as illegal.
“Any other country that would ever act on the assumption that it has the might and mimic unilateralism of any sorts will find ... that it has made a basic miscalculation,” he said.
Responding to the army’s statement, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has stressed that it was up to Pakistan if they wanted US troops to leave its territory.
“A small number of US military trainers in Pakistan are there at the invitation of the Pakistani government, and therefore subject to that government’s prerogatives,” said an email by Admiral Mullen’s spokesperson sent to AFP.
Mullen had not been notified of any decision by Pakistan on the presence of the US contingent of trainers, his spokesman said.
“He has seen press reporting that those prerogatives might be changing, but until such time as he has been officially informed of such by Gen. Kayani, the chairman will withhold comment,” the statement said.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2011.
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