Islamabad: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday virtually questioned US role in the 90s, a period which witnessed the creation of Taliban and al Qaeda. He said Pakistan alone cannot be blamed for Osama bin Laden and it was unfair for the country to take all the flak.

The premier assured that Army will conduct a probe whether he enjoyed support structure in the country.

"Collectively, we must acknowledge facts and see our faces in the mirror of history. Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for flawed policies and blunders of others. Pakistan is not the birth place of al Qaeda," Gilani said in a 30-minute address in Parliament.

He announced that a probe will be conducted by Pakistan Army's Adjutant General Lt General Javed Iqbal to determine how the al Qaeda chief had managed to hide in the garrison city of Abbottabad.

Gilani, who along with the top Pakistani leadership, has been under all round fire over the US action as also bin Laden being tracked near the capital, dismissed as "absurd" criticism of the military and intelligence set-up for its failure to detect the al Qaeda chief's presence in Pakistan.

Gilani mounted a strong defence of the powerful army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency and took a swipe at America for its perceived role in backing jihadists during the campaign against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Addressing parliament a week after the killing of bin Laden, Gilani said, "The obvious question that has vexed everyone is how could Osama bin Laden hide in plain sight in
the scenic surroundings of Abbottabad. Let's not rush to judgment. Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd."

Pakistan is "determined to get to the bottom of how, when and why about bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad".

Gilani reiterated his contention that the failure to detect bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad was an "intelligence failure" of the spy agencies of the world.

Noting that Pakistan was not the birthplace of al Qaeda and that Pakistan did not invite bin Laden, Gilani sought to highlight the US role in supporting mujahideen during the "great jihad" against Russian troops which occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

He spoke of "high-ranking US officials exhorting the Afghans and mujahideen to wage jihad..in the name of Islam" and said Pakistan was still suffering the effects of the American policy.

While acknowledging that the elimination of bin Laden – the "most wanted terrorist and enemy number one of the civilized world" – was "indeed justice done", Gilani warned that the unilateral operation by US special forces could have had "serious consequences".

"Unilateralism runs the inherent risk of serious consequences," he said. The destruction of a US helicopter during the raid was an "important reminder of the risks in such operations", Gilani said.

"Let no one draw any wrong conclusions. Any attack against Pakistan's strategic assets whether overt or covert will find a matching response. Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force. No one should underestimate the resolve and capability of our nation and armed forces to defend our sacred homeland," Gilani said, repeating a warning that was issued earlier by the powerful army.

Laden had support network inside Pak: US

Earlier, US President Barack Obama had said that bin Laden had some sort of support network inside Pakistan and called for investigation by both countries into it.

"We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan," Obama said.

"But we don't know who or what that support network was. We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate."

Gilani also reiterated Pakistan's opposition to US drone strikes in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, saying the attacks "constitute a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and are counter-productive".

Pakistan is not "naive to declare victory" after bin Laden's death as the "myth and legacy" of the Al Qaeda leader have to be demolished, he said.

"The anger and frustration of ordinary people over injustice, oppression and tyranny that he sought to harness to fuel the fire of terrorism in the world, needs to be addressed," he added.

Gilani defends ISI role

Defending the ISI, which the US and Western powers have accused of having double standards in tackling militant groups like the Taliban, Gilani said the spy agency and armed
forces had captured 248 al Qaeda men in the wake of the bombing of Tora Bora as well as 40 key al Qaeda operatives, including Abu Faraj Al-Libbi and Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the
master planner of 9/11.

The ISI "passed key leads to the CIA that enabled the US intelligence to use superior technological assets and focus on the area in which Osama bin Laden was eventually found", Gilani contended.

"Let me also affirm the government's full confidence in the high command of the Pakistan armed forces and the ISI. Indeed the ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government," he said.
 
Gilani's speech noted that Pakistan's relations with the US and neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and India were in "good shape".

With the US, Pakistan has an ongoing multi-track process of engagement and is looking forward to a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said.

Though Pakistan and the US have "strategic convergence", cooperation in counter-terrorism should "fully accommodates Pakistan's interests and respect for the clearly stipulated red lines", he said.

Pakistan's ties with Afghanistan have undergone a sea change while the country has embarked on an "important process of engagement" with India that should yield "dividends for our two peoples and for peoples of South Asia", he said.

"We will pursue our engagement with India in a positive and constructive manner," he added.

Gilani also announced that a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate will be held on May 13 so that military officials can provide an in-camera briefing on the US raid against bin Laden. 

The Prime Minister revisited the past and spoke on the events leading to invasion by the Soviet Forces of Afghanistan, the birth of the freedom movement with the support of the world and the eventual creation of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.

He said Pakistan lost over 30,000 of its men in the war against terrorism and termed its commitment to the cause as a national priority.

Gilani said no other nation has met so many challenges as the people of Pakistan. He said the nation has met all challenges.


(Agencies)