LONDON - With his fate at home hanging in the balance, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani repudiated US claims that Pakistan was falling short on fighting the war on terrorism and said instead that his nation was operating on a trust deficit with Washington.
“There’s a trust deficit between both the countries, between both the governments,” Gilani said in interactions with the media. “That is the reason we are wanting to work for new terms of engagement and cooperation with the United States.”
Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally, but relations between the two nations have been strained in recent months, especially after last year’s killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil and a NATO airstrike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Amid a lack of harmony, the Obama administration has said it is not convinced Pakistan is pulling its weight. At the end of an Asia tour Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan ought to do more in fighting extremism. Gilani countered that his country was doing all it could in partnership with the United States. “If there is any credible, actionable information, please share with us, because are already working with you,” he said. “My ISI is working with the CIA. What else do you want?”
How can relations between the two nations, strained in recent months, improve? “One point,” Gilani said. “That is mutual respect and mutual interest.” A lack of trust is not the only stain marring a critical relationship.
Pakistan has said it wants an end to US drone strikes on its territory, and Gilani made the point again Tuesday. “We always take drones as counterproductive, and it’s not lawful,” Gilani said.
Back at home, Gilani faces myriad national woes: a faltering economy, widespread poverty and corruption. And now, his own future.
But on a five-day visit to the United Kingdom, Gilani remained confidant and defiant as ever about stepping down, saying that only parliament had the right to force him from office.
“If I’m disqualified, notified by the speaker, then yes I have to,” he said about leaving his job. “Whatever I have done is according to the constitution,” he said. “It is not on any moral turpitude or financial corruption.”
He said information about the most wanted terror suspects is shared with Washington. In the case of bin Laden, Gillani said Pakistan was not aware of the al Qaeda mastermind’s residence in Abbottabad. “That was intelligence failure of the whole world. It was not just an intelligence failure of Pakistan,” he said. Pakistanis, of all people, know the consequences of terrorists on their soil, he said.
Clinton also touted the Rewards for Justice program, aimed at obtaining information that could help convict suspected terrorists. Rewards go as high as $25 million for information on al-Zawahiri and $10 million for information about Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a Pakistani man wanted by Indian authorities in connection with the 2008 assault on Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people. Asked why Saeed remains a free man, Gilani said Pakistan was still “waiting for some concrete sort of information and evidence” that could be used against him in court.