Pak says ISI not in cahoots with al-Qaeda

Islamabad: Facing intense global scrutiny over its intelligence agencies` possible complicity in sheltering Osama bin Laden, Pakistan on Thursday said ISI or elements within its government were "not in cahoots" with al-Qaeda.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir mounted a strong defence of the ISI in the wake of questions raised by US officials about its failure to detect bin Laden even though he was living in a compound located less than a kilometre from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.

"It`s easy to say the ISI or elements within the government were in cahoots with al-Qaeda. This is a false hypothesis and a false charge.

"It cannot be validated on any account and it flies in the face of what Pakistan and the ISI has been able to accomplish," Bashir said at the first press conference by a senior Pakistani official on the killing of bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad near here by US special forces in a unilateral operation on Monday.

He also sought to dispel the impression that the US raid had taken bilateral relations to a fresh low.

While acknowledging that the unilateral and covert US operation had been successful in eliminating bin Laden, Bashir said it was "fortunate that a major tragedy that could have happened was averted" as the Pakistan Air Force had scrambled two F-16 jets after learning that some helicopters were present over Abbottabad.

"If anything had gone wrong it would have led to a terrible catastrophe," he said.

Such operations could not be made the rule and Pakistan`s cooperation with the US in the war on terror is "based on certain parameters or red lines" that need to be observed, Bashir said.

Referring to comments by US officials like CIA chief Leon Panetta about the possible complicity of Pakistani security forces or intelligence agencies in sheltering bin Laden, he said such remarks had "continued to surface periodically" to pressure Pakistan to "do more" in the war on terror.

Bashir claimed the ISI had been more successful than even the CIA in capturing or killing al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.

The ISI had shared information on the compound where bin Laden was found since 2009 and had also focussed on Abbottabad since 2004, he said.

"The Pakistan security forces are neither incompetent nor negligent about their sacred duty which is to protect the nation," he said.