One year after Prime Minister Imran Khan described slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a "shaheed" (martyr), Pakistan's information minister on Sunday clarified that it was a "slip of the tongue" by his boss.
Speaking in Parliament on June 25 last year, Khan said the American forces entered Pakistan and killed bin Laden without informing the government after which everyone started abusing his country.
"I don't think there's a country which supported the war on terror and had to face embarrassment for it. Pakistan was also openly blamed for US' failure in Afghanistan," Khan had said.
"For Pakistanis across the globe, it was an embarrassing moment when the Americans came and killed Osama bin Laden at Abottabad...martyred him. The whole world started abusing us after that. Our ally came inside our country and killed someone without informing us. And, 70,000 Pakistanis died because of US' war on terror," he told lawmakers, drawing criticism from the Opposition as well as from the media.
Bin Laden, then the world's most wanted terrorist, was killed by US Navy Seals in a covert military operation in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad in May, 2011.
Speaking on Geo News programme Jirga, aired on Sunday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said, "It was a slip of the tongue. He had clarified it," the minister said while referring to Khan's controversial remarks.
The controversy surfaced again last week when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi refrained from calling Osama bin Laden a terrorist in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News.
When the interviewer quoted Prime Minister Imran as calling bin Laden a “martyr”, Qureshi said: “Well, again. Out of context. He (the PM) was quoted out of context. And, a particular section of the media pair it up.”
Asked if he would disagree, the foreign minister paused for a while and then said: “I will let it pass,” the Dawn newspaper reported.
The leading Pakistani in an editorial noted that Qureshi's refusal to call bin Laden a terrorist in an interview with an Afghan media outlet is perplexing and defies logic.
"There are times to be diplomatic and parry sticky questions. However, this certainly didn’t appear to be one of those instances," the Dawn said.
"Mr Qureshi could have used this opportunity to clearly state that Pakistan considers the late Al Qaeda mastermind a terrorist. However, his non-committal comments sent the wrong message to a global audience," it pointed out.
"Pakistan’s top leadership needs to be absolutely clear when it comes to describing fighters like bin Laden," the editorial stressed.
When asked about Qureshi's remarks by Tolo News anchor, Information Minister Chaudhry said the foreign minister's refusal to call bin Laden a terrorist might have had to do with his desire to "move forwards, instead of looking at the past".
The information minister said a clarification had been issued last year by Prime Minister Imran's spokesperson after his remarks. He emphasised that Pakistan had rendered the most sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
"Our position is entirely clear," the senior leader of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said, adding that "when our own media exaggerate things then, of course, the foreign [media] will pick them up from local sources."