YORK - Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has painted a grim picture of Pak-American relations, saying that continuing to work with the US could imperil his government unless Washington takes drastic steps to restore trust and win over 180 million Pakistanis.
In a 45-minute interview with TIME, a leading American weekly magazine, his first since the US raid that killed bin Laden, he responded to the clamour of criticism in Washington alleging Pakistani duplicity over the fact that the al-Qaeda leader had been hiding out in the garrison town of Abbottabad, saying that the widening trust deficit between the two allies needed to be bridged. Alternating between Urdu and English, the Prime Minister said cooperation between the CIA and the ISI had broken down, and that Washington and Islamabad differed on how to fight terror and forge an exit strategy in Afghanistan. He did, however, for the first time publicly offer to support US drone strikes inside Pakistan, provided that Pakistan was in on the decision making. Gilani warned that his government was accountable to an electorate increasingly hostile to the US. I am not an army dictator, Im a public figure, he said. If public opinion is against you [the US] then I cannot resist it to stand with you. I have to go with public opinion.
Speaking of the Abbottabad raid, Gilani said, Naturally, we wondered why they went unilaterally. If were fighting a war together, we have to work together. Even if there was credible and actionable information, then we should have done it jointly.
He said he was first alerted to the raid through a 2am call from Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Gilani then called his foreign secretary and asked him to demand an explanation from US Ambassador Cameron Munter. I have not met or spoken to [US officials] since, he said. Whatever information we are receiving is from the media. Today, we have said that we want them to talk to us directly.
Gilani rejected opposition suggestions that his government had caved into the military by allowing it to hold an internal inquiry into the affair, rather than enforce civilian oversight. We are all on the same page, Gilani said.
Gilani emphasized his strengthening links with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the many bonds that unite the two peoples. But that doesnt necessarily translate into support for the U.S. strategy there.
In our discussions with Karzai, we came to an agreement that terrorists are our common enemy. We both have suffered; we both have made sacrifices. So we have decided to unite to fight against them. To prove this recent intimacy, the dispatch said Gilani showed off a beautifully carved, single-slab lapiz lazuli coffee table top, encased in velvet. It was a gift from Karzai, he said. It arrived a week ago.
Gilani said he favours a political solution to the conflict next door, led by the Afghans. It should be owned by them and be on their own initiative, the Prime Minister said. He saw Pakistans role as that of a facilitator.
As its ties with Washington fray, Pakistan is strengthening its regional relations, the dispatch pointed out. Gilani recently visited India; next week, he will travel to China. But the Prime Minister rejects any suggestion that Pakistan will compensate for any cooling of U.S. support by drawing closer to China. We already have a stronger relationship with China, he said. Its time-tested. At the same time, he didnt believe Washington was really going to cut aid. If it did, he said, Well cross that bridge when we come to it.
Gilani says the drone war weakens his efforts to rally public support for the fight against extremism. No one can win a war without the support of the public, he said. I say that this is my war, but when drones strike, the people ask, 'Whose war is this, then? A drone strategy can be worked out, Gilani said. If drone strikes are effective, then we should evolve a common strategy to win over public opinion. Our position is that the technology should be transferred to us.
Asserting that Pakistan wasnt the only place where Osama had traveled after fleeing Afghanistan, Gilani said the al Qaeda leader may have visited his ancestral homeland, Yemen, in search of a new bride.
Gilani said he received a cable from Pakistans Embassy in Syria on Tuesday, reporting that the sister of bin Ladens fifth wife, a Yemeni national, was in Damascus, and had made contact with Pakistani diplomats there.
According to the diplomatic cable, the sister-in-law claimed that bin Laden had married Aml Ahmed, currently 29, in Yemen in 2002. That was after 9/11, said Gilani. And they say that theyve got the proof. If the information contained in the cable is correct, he continued, that would put bin-Laden in Yemen in 2002.
The Prime Minister also said he isnt even sure that bin Laden had been hiding in the Abbottabad compound for the past six years. The claim, Gilani said, is not authentic, adding that terrorists dont normally stay in one place for more than 15 days.
Gilani accepts that there was an intelligence failure, but insists that it wasnt only Pakistans. He was not confined to Pakistan alone, the prime minister said. He was everywhere. And ultimately, he added, bin Laden was not his responsibility. If they are concerned about bin-Laden, they should be, Gilani said of his US allies. Thats their issue. Bin Laden is not my citizen. When my citizens are being martyred, Im responsible for that.
ISI-CIA ties collapsed: PM