Islamabad, May 12: More than a week after a unilateral American raid killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani today blamed the widening trust deficit in bilateral ties on the US and warned that continuing to work with that country could imperil his government.
Admitting that cooperation between spy agencies of the two countries had broken down and they differed on how to fight terrorism, he said the Americans should have conducted a joint operation with Pakistan to nab the al-Qaeda chief rather than carry out a covert operation.
Gilani contended that his government was accountable to the Pakistani people, who were increasingly hostile to the US.
“I am not an army dictator, I'm a public figure...If public opinion is against you (referring to his US allies) then I cannot resist it to stand with you. I have to go with public opinion,” he said in an interview to Time magazine, his first since the US raid that killed bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2.
Gilani put the onus on Washington to gain the support of Pakistani citizens, while saying that continuing to work with the US could imperil his government.
“They should do something for the public which will persuade them that the US is supportive of Pakistan,” he said.
As an example, he cited the 2008 US-India civil nuclear agreement. “It's our public that's dying, but the deal is happening there,” he said. “You claim there's a strategic partnership? That we're best friends?”
To support his contention, Gilani quoted a verse from Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.
“When we passed each other, she didn't deign to even say hello. How, then, can I believe that our parting caused her any tears?”
Despite criticism from the US about alleged Pakistani duplicity over the fact that bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad near Islamabad, Gilani claimed the role of “aggrieved party in a deteriorating relationship” and complained repeatedly about the widening “trust deficit” with the US.
Asked about the reason for the trust deficit, Gilani replied tersely: “It's not from our side. Ask them (the US).”
He also acknowledged that cooperation between the CIA and the ISI had broken down.
“Traditionally, the ISI worked with the CIA,” he said. Now, “what we're seeing is that there's no level of trust”, he added.
Referring to his country's alliance with the US in the war on terror, Gilani said the Americans should have conducted a joint operation with Pakistan to get bin Laden.
“Naturally, we wondered why they went unilaterally. If we're 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.
Gilani said he was first alerted to the American raid through a 2 am call from army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The Prime Minister then called Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and asked him to demand an explanation from US Ambassador Cameron Munter.
“I have not met or spoken to (US officials) since. Whatever information we are receiving is from the media. Today, we have said that we want them to talk to us directly,” he said.
The opposition has criticised the PPP-led government for the intelligence set-up's failure to detect bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad but Gilani dismissed suggestions that his administration had caved in to 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.”
The rift between Pakistan and the US also cast a shadow over Afghanistan, where their cooperation is vital to enable a US exit strategy.
Gilani emphasised his strengthening links with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “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,” he said.
Despite his rapprochement with Karzai, Gilani acknowledges his abiding “difference of opinion” with the US on how best to fight militancy.
“From day one, my policy has been the three Ds: dialogue, development and deterrence,” he said. “The first time I shared my strategy with (former US) President (George W) Bush, it sounded Greek to him. Today, the whole world is toeing the same line.”
He criticised the US troop surge in Afghanistan, saying:“Military solutions cannot be permanent solutions. There has to be a political solution, some kind of exit strategy.”
He favoured a political solution to the conflict led by Afghans. “It should be owned by them and be on their own initiative,” he said.
Gilani saw Pakistan's role as that of a “facilitator”.
The Prime Minister, who is set to visit China next week, rejected suggestions that Pakistan will compensate for any cooling of US support by drawing closer to China. “We already have a stronger relationship with China,” he said.
At the same time, he did not believe Washington was really going to cut aid to Islamabad. If it did, he said, “We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Gilani, however, feared that a deteriorating relationship with the US could hurt Pakistan's fight against domestic militancy. “When there's a trust deficit, there will be problems in intelligence sharing,” he said.
However, Gilani publicly offered for the first time to support US drone strikes inside Pakistan, provided his government was made part of the decision-making on such attacks.
Gilani has repeatedly said that the drone campaign weakens his efforts to rally public support to fight extremism.
“No one can win a war without the support of the public. I say that this is my war, but when drones strike, the people ask, ‘Whose war is this, then?'”, he said.
He said he was open to renegotiating the terms of the CIA's drone programme.
He would countenance a policy in which the CIA would continue to operate the drones “where they are used under our supervision.”
“A drone strategy can be worked out...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,” he said. PTI