Pakistan will allow the U.S. to question the three wives of Osama bin Laden who were with him in the compound where American commandos killed the al-Qaeda leader last week, granting a measure of cooperation amid tensions following the raid.
The Obama administration expects to get access to the women soon, based on a response from the Pakistani government, a U.S. official said yesterday on condition of anonymity. The specific timing of the access wasn’t set, the official said.
The decision followed verbal skirmishing between the two countries. Pakistani officials have said that the U.S. should have informed Pakistan of the operation in advance. U.S. officials have questioned how much Pakistani authorities knew about bin Laden’s presence in their country.
The Obama administration said yesterday that it wouldn’t apologize for entering Pakistan to raid bin Laden’s compound, as the South Asian country’s prime minister tried to counter domestic criticism over the military’s failure to detect and stop the U.S. attack.
“We obviously take the statements and concerns of the Pakistani government seriously,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday, speaking after Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, addressed the Parliament in Islamabad. “But we also do not apologize for the actions that we took.”
The Obama administration, while expressing suspicions about Pakistani aid to bin Laden, aims to preserve a relationship that has allowed CIA drone strikes against militants and at least partly stemmed the flow of fighters into neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. also relies on Pakistan for transit of supplies from ports on its southern coast for the U.S.-led coalition fighting insurgents in the war next door.
The U.S. will know soon “just how and by whom bin Laden was protected in Pakistan for a decade as it goes through the computers and documents snatched in the raid,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and counterterrorism adviser to the U.S. government, said by e-mail. Evidence of ties between bin Laden and Pakistan’s army or intelligence services would move the relationship “from crisis to confrontation,” he said.
The three wives are among an unspecified number of women and children who survived the assault on the compound and were left behind.
Pakistani authorities have said they found the three wives and nine children at the site. In addition to bin Laden, three men and one of their wives were killed during the raid. Only bin Laden’s body was removed, according to the U.S. One of the men killed was his son, and the other two were couriers; no other adult males were left behind, the U.S. official said.
While there has been a war of words, the Pentagon says supply convoys to Afghanistan continue to operate and Pakistan has not imposed any new restrictions on the 300 U.S. military trainers and other personnel who have been working with the Pakistani army to improve its counterinsurgency capabilities.
The U.S. also said it had no plans to pull the CIA’s station chief from Pakistan after at least one newspaper and a television station there named someone they said held that position.
Gilani, the prime minister, said the army would lead an investigation of intelligence failures that allowed bin Laden to go undetected. Authorities also will review why its military failed to react to the U.S. operation that killed the al-Qaeda chief in a house in Abbottabad, near the country’s most prestigious military academy.
President Barack Obama, in an interview broadcast May 8 on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, said the U.S. suspects that bin Laden had a support network in Pakistan and that the government there needs to investigate.
Gilani said bin Laden’s killing was “justice” for the terrorist attacks the al-Qaeda leader had ordered, including those against Pakistani citizens. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, had provided leads that eventually helped locate bin Laden, he said.
Gilani was less critical of the U.S. than he might have been, said Marvin Weinbaum, an Afghanistan and Pakistan analyst in the State Department’s bureau of intelligence research until 2003 and now a scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“Pakistan’s political leadership knows this is a relationship that is important” to its survival, Weinbaum said in a telephone interview. The “worst nightmare” for Pakistani leaders is that they push the U.S. toward India, he said.
Obama spoke with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday morning about the raid and the “strategic partnership” between the two nations, the administration said in a statement.
Gilani may have been alluding to India when he cautioned against “wrong conclusions” from the raid. India’s military chief, General V.K. Singh, and Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said last week that their country also had the capability to strike against terrorists inside Pakistani cities, The Times of India reported on May 6.
While ordinary Pakistanis and opposition parties have demanded answers from the government and the military, analysts said the administration of President Asif Ali Zardari was unlikely to be badly damaged.
“The U.S. has yet not blamed the Pakistani government for bin Laden’s presence. Zardari’s biggest challenge now is to control the damage by conducting a transparent inquiry,” said Nasir Zaidi, an analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad.
Zardari’s main opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will meet in Islamabad today to discuss the U.S. raid.
“Pakistan’s independence has been hurt and Pakistanis are deeply worried,” Sharif told reporters in Lahore yesterday. “The nation may face a crisis if the right steps are not taken.”
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