|Asif Ali Zardari with President Obama at the White House in May 2009. (Reuters)|
Pakistani lawmakers call for president to resign
ISLAMABAD — Prominent Pakistani lawmakers called for President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior government officials to resign yesterday after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden and embarrassed the nation.
The demands followed a week in which questions swirled about how much the Pakistani government knew about bin Laden’s hiding place and why the military was powerless to prevent US commandos from entering the country to kill the Al Qaeda chief.
Pakistani officials have said they were totally in the dark, a hard thing for many Pakistanis to believe since bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad, an army town a mere 2 1/2-hour drive from the capital, Islamabad.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister who is now a lawmaker for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, fixed the blame squarely on Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani — likely motivated in part by past conflict with the two men.
“This is a great violation of our sovereignty, but it is for the president and prime minister to resign and no one else,’’ Qureshi told reporters in the central Pakistani city of Lahore.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the main opposition leader in Parliament, said the country’s powerful army and intelligence chiefs should also step down. They are believed to control the real levers of power in Pakistan.
“All from top to bottom who are responsible should take responsibility, and I believe that after such a big tragedy, they should resign,’’ Khan told reporters in Lahore. “This is a call coming from every street of Pakistan.’’
But it is unclear whether anyone will be forced to step down. The Pakistani government is viewed by many in the country as totally unresponsive to the many woes plaguing the nation, from a struggling economy to frequent terrorist attacks.
“It is not time to sprinkle salt on wounds,’’ said Pakistan’s information minister, Firdous Aashiq Awan, when asked about the calls for senior officials to resign. “It is time to apply ointment on the nation’s wounds.’’
The Pakistani military denied reports yesterday that Pakistan’s spy chief, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, planned to resign because of criticism after the raid Monday that killed bin Laden.
Pasha is head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which says it was unaware bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad for up to six years.
The head of Pakistan’s army, General Ashfaq Kayani, met with Zardari, Gilani, and other senior officials in Islamabad yesterday to discuss the raid, said the prime minister’s office. Gilani plans to brief Pakistan’s Parliament tomorrow.
It is unclear where bin Laden was located before he moved to Abbottabad. Residents of Chak Shah Mohammad, a sparsely populated village close to Abbottabad, denied reports yesterday that bin Laden had lived there for 2 1/2 years with his family before moving to Abbottabad.
“I don’t think the kind of people you and the intelligence agencies are looking for are here or have ever lived here,’’ said Mohammad Shazad Awan, a former army soldier who has driven a public minibus in the area for the last 12 years. But residents of Abbottabad said they were also not aware that bin Laden had been living there for such a long time.
Qureshi, the former foreign minister, said Parliament should conduct an inquiry into the raid in Abbottabad. Qureshi is now a lawmaker for the governing party but has clashed with party leaders ever since he was pushed out as foreign minister in February.
Qureshi has said he was forced to resign because of his comments on the case of Raymond Allen Davis, a CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistanis, apparently in self-defense.