Pakistan`s President denies harboring bin Laden

Zardari has rubbished suggestions that Pak security forces may have sheltered Osama bin Laden before he was killed in US raids.

Last Updated: May 03, 2011, 12:26 PM IST

Abbottabad: Pakistan`s President denied suggestions his country`s security forces may have sheltered Osama bin Laden before he was killed by American forces, and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint the world`s most wanted man.

Asif Ali Zardari said, however, that Monday`s operation against bin Laden was not conducted with Pakistani forces.

His comments in a Washington Post opinion piece Monday were Pakistan`s first formal response to the suspicions by U.S. lawmakers and other critics, which could further sour relations between Islamabad and Washington at a crucial point in the war in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden was killed in a large house close to a military academy in the bustling northwestern town of Abbottabad, not in the remote Afghan border region where many had assumed he had been holed up. That was quickly taken as a sign of possible collusion with the country`s powerful security establishment, which Western officials have long regarded with a measure of suspicion.

"Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn`t reflect fact," Zardari wrote.

Ties between the two nominal allies were already strained amid U.S. accusations that the Pakistanis are supporting militants in Afghanistan and Pakistani anger over American drone attacks and spy activity.

Suspicions were also aired in Pakistan`s media and on the street Tuesday.

"That house was obviously a suspicious one," said Jahangir Khan, who was buying a newspaper in Abbottabad. "Either it was a complete failure of our intelligence agencies or they were involved in this affair."

U.S. officials have said that Pakistani officials were not told about the early morning helicopter raid until the strike team had killed bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan from where they took off from. Many Pakistanis were surprised at how this was possible, especially when initial reports stated that the choppers took off from a Pakistani airbase.

Zardari said it "was not a joint operation" — the kind of which has been conducted in the past against lesser terror suspects in Pakistan — but that Pakistani cooperation, in a general sense, had helped lead them to bin Laden.

"A decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world," he said.

President Barack Obama also said the country`s anti-terror alliance had helped in the run up to the operation, but did not thank Pakistan when he announced the death of bin Laden.

Bureau Report