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In Pakistan, a Mix of Anger, Embarrassment Over Bin Laden Raid

May 3, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: And now to Pakistan, the south Asian nation once again in the eye of a major political storm.

Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: For some in Pakistan, it was a day of anger. Demonstrators in Karachi, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, turned out to protest the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden.

AZAM MINHAS (through translator): The drama which was staged yesterday in Abbottabad has exposed the U.S. The CIA staged this event only to make Obama more successful at the next elections.

MARGARET WARNER: But Karachi’s newspaper “The News” leveled its criticism elsewhere, saying, “The failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of the world’s most wanted man here is shocking.”

Elsewhere in Pakistan, the atmosphere was relatively calm. On camera and in print, the Pakistani government was busy denying that its security and intelligence forces might have sheltered bin Laden.

Writing in The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said, though Sunday’s raid was “not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world.”

He dismissed suggestions in the U.S. that Pakistan had been protecting bin Laden as “baseless speculation that may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact.”

Pakistan’s foreign secretary struck the same note.

SALMAN BASHIR, Pakistani foreign secretary: It is our determination that we will not allow our soil to be used by anyone for terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: Late today, however, the Pakistan government issued a statement warning that unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule or precedent.

But, on Capitol Hill, there were questions about what the Pakistanis knew and did and about the future of the roughly $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Democrat Dianne Feinstein:

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: If they didn’t know, why didn’t they know? Why didn’t they pay more attention to it? Was this just benign indifference, or was it indifference with a motive? I don’t know what the answer is. And we need to find that out.

MARGARET WARNER: In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed there are questions to ask, but he cautioned against getting into what he called a massive row with the Pakistanis.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: And the right choice is to engage with Pakistan and to deal with the extremists, rather than just throw up our hands in despair and walk away…

MAN: All right.

DAVID CAMERON: … which would be a disastrous choice.

MARGARET WARNER: This afternoon, special correspondent Saima Mohsin, who is near the Osama compound in Abbottabad, said neighbors told her the compound’s residents kept their distance.

SAIMA MOHSIN: We couldn’t get inside, but we did walk around the compound, meet local people. And they basically told us that they have seen this house being built from scratch around about 2005, yet the people who lived inside did keep their privacy and guard their privacy.

As they understood it, the only information they ever found out, that these were Pashtun people, that they — they kept (INAUDIBLE) which is basically segregation and privacy of men and women. And so because they kept that strict Pashtun culture alive there, people didn’t ask any more questions.

MARGARET WARNER: And what else did you observe about the compound?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, taking a walk around it, it is much larger than any of the other houses in that area. It does slightly camouflage itself, in the sense that it’s not a grand structure. There is no signs of luxury for, of course, the world’s most wanted man.

But for all intents and purposes, as people have said, there is this boundary wall that sticks out like a sore thumb.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s been the media reaction throughout Pakistan to the government’s insistence that nobody knew that bin Laden was there?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Surprisingly, Pakistan’s media have been very damning of both the government and the military and somewhat pro-United States, which we rarely see in the press here in Pakistan.

To the point were the clear embarrassment and the raising of questions of, why didn’t Pakistan’s government or intelligence agencies, or, indeed, the military, which is surrounding this compound, whether it be the military academy or various military installations, didn’t know that Osama bin Laden was right here on Pakistani soil, and not hidden away in the mountains of FATA or in Quetta, in Balochistan, but right here in an average town of Pakistan?

So, we have heard various points coming out about how Pakistan has been a very trying partner for the United States, and that we need to stop, as in the Pakistani government and Pakistan needs to stop picking and choosing which terrorists are — are good or bad. We have heard this a lot of times over the last few years, in terms of the fact that there is a sense that perhaps the Pakistani military supports those small terrorist groups — we have heard these allegations in the past — that are fighting the jihad in Kashmir, yet the Taliban are bad, and the fact is that that distinction should not be made.

And that’s what the press is calling for now.

MARGARET WARNER: Throughout Pakistan the U.S. Embassy and consulates were temporarily closed today as a precautionary measure.