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Pakistan parliament condemns bin Laden raid

/ Source: news services

Members of Pakistan's Parliament slammed the United States on Saturday for the raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden on their soil, but also demanded that an independent commission probe the debacle instead of one led by the country's powerful armed forces.

The parliamentary resolution followed a rare, private session with top military officials that began Friday and ran past midnight.

During the session, Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha indicated he'd be willing to resign if lawmakers demanded it, but no one did.

In fact, it appeared lawmakers from the weak civilian government and the opposition essentially closed ranks behind a military establishment humiliated by the May 2 U.S. Navy SEALs attack on bin Laden's compound in the northwest garrison city of Abbottabad.

"Parliament ... condemned the unilateral action in Abbottabad which constitutes a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty,'' the resolution, issued after security chiefs briefed legislators, said.

Pakistani leaders have insisted they had no idea bin Laden was staying in the city.

Pakistani officials have pointed out their country also has faced a rise in militant attacks that have killed civilians.

A roadside bomb hit a passenger bus Saturday near Kharian, a garrison town in eastern Pakistan, killing at least three people and wounding several others, police official Rashid Ahmed said. The bus was en route to Kharian from the nearby city of Gujrat.

The attack came a day after two suicide bombers struck a training center for paramilitary police recruits in the Shabqadar area of Pakistan's northwest in what the Pakistani Taliban called revenge for the death of bin Laden. On Saturday, senior police official Liaquat Ali Khan raised the death toll to 87, including at least 66 recruits.

Few lawmakers were willing to discuss details of the confidential session, but the hours it covered suggested that the generals were questioned extensively — a rarity in a country where the military operates largely beyond civilian control and has staged multiple coups.

Intelligence chief Pasha spoke at length, and defended the military's record in fighting Islamist extremist movements, some of which have staged numerous deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.

Negligence admittedPasha admitted negligence in tracing bin Laden, but also noted that Pakistan had cooperated with the U.S. in helping kill or capture numerous bin Laden allies, severely diminishing al-Qaida's terrorist infrastructure.

Bin Laden was like a "dead person despite being alive," federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan quoted the intelligence chief as saying.

Pasha rarely talks to media on the record. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was present, but there were no accounts of him speaking.

According to Awan, an air force official said the military learned "American planes were loaded with bombs" and in the air in Afghanistan, ready to retaliate if Pakistani planes went after the U.S. helicopters sent after bin Laden.

The U.S. has said it sent extra helicopters into Pakistani airspace to provide backup for the Navy SEALs.

The military leaders assured lawmakers that Pakistan's nuclear arsenals were safe and promised to improve the country's air defenses, Awan said.

The parliamentary resolution that emerged from the gathering termed the U.S. raid as an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty.

It also criticized American drone strikes in Pakistan's militant-riddled tribal areas, which many suspect Pakistan secretly allows while publicly denouncing.

The resolution also called for an independent body to look into the bin Laden raid. Earlier in the week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the military would lead the probe, but that upset opposition leaders.

Awan told state-run Pakistan TV that lawmakers had expressed full confidence in the country's security forces.

Pakistan became an ally of the U.S. in the fight against Islamist militants after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but the relationship has long been an uneasy one, with mutual distrust that has only deepened since the bin Laden killing.

Although American officials have said so far they have seen no evidence the top Pakistani military officials knew of bin Laden's whereabouts, the U.S. has long harbored suspicions that elements of Pakistan's armed and intelligence services provide assistance to some militant groups battling Western troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials deny any links to such groups, b ut analysts say Pakistan may be maintaining ties to some insurgents, including the Haqqani group and Afghan Taliban leaders, because it wants leverage in Afghanistan — and a wedge against archrival India — once the U.S. pulls out.

Who's next?
There is growing concern about who might be next on the United States' list after bin Laden.

The U.S. has made clear it will go after Islamist militants in Pakistan if it finds them, and at the top of the list would be Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

For years, U.S. officials have said the one-eyed Omar is based is in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, not far from the Afghan border, where he heads a Taliban leadership council, or shura.

Pakistan rejects assertions that Omar is in Pakistan, or even that the so-called Quetta shura exists. But such denials ring hollow after the al-Qaida leader was found in the country after years of similar protestations.

People in Quetta are nervous and some are scornful of both sides in the fight against Islamist militancy.

"I have no sympathy at all for Mullah Omar or the Taliban but I have none for the Americans either," said Zulfiqar Tareen, a pharmaceutical company representative taking orders from shopkeepers in one of Quetta's main markets. "Yes, the Taliban are terrorists but so is America."

For the United States, desperate to find some way to end the nearly decade old Afghan war, catching or killing Omar could prove decisive.

"If they really want to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan they should go after Mullah Omar. He is the key," said an Arab diplomat in Pakistan. "It would not surprise me if he is the next target."

Afghan officials say Quetta is a virtual rear base for the Taliban where fighters can rest and get medical care and where their leaders plot. Heavily bearded and turbaned Pashtun men eye strangers with suspicion in some neighborhoods.

But trouble in Quetta comes more from autonomy-seeking separatist rebels than from Islamists like the Taliban.

'Not our enemy'
City hotel worker Nasir Khan said Pakistan should be left out of the U.S. war against the Afghan Taliban.

"Mullah Omar has noting to do with Pakistan, he's just fighting the Americans in Afghanistan, his country ... He's not our enemy so we shouldn't get involved," Khan said.

Despite its reputation as a Taliban hub, there's no obvious militant hold on the city and women make up many of the shoppers in markets where shops sell Indian movies and pop songs.

Whether or not the shadowy Taliban supremo is in Quetta, security officials are nervous.

"It's a very tricky situation," said a senior intelligence official who declined to be identified. "If you ask us if Mullah Omar is in Quetta, the answer is 'no', we have no such information and we are confident about it."

Nevertheless, he said his men had stepped up efforts to track Omar although the had no new leads.

"We'll definitely get him if we know where he is. It's very important for us to get him before the United States does. We don't want another Abbottabad-like situation," he said.