Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has said that al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is dead, but has sought more international aid to expand military operations against Taliban, in areas where Americans believe he may be hiding.
Asserting that his government was fighting the militants with determination, Mr. Zardari said these efforts were hampered by what he called lack of resources.
In an interview to BBC to mark his first year in office as President, Mr. Zardari’s main emphasis was on Pakistan’s ailing economy and to make a pitch for much more enhanced assistance from the West.
“If the world’s armies and the world’s budgets cannot look after (the Afghan) side of the border, give me more time and give me the resources that I need and we will deliver,” he said.
He was replying to questions when Pakistan would act against Taliban militants based on its soil who carried out cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
On Osama, the Pakistan President, however, did not put forward any evidence or details in support of his claim that world’s most wanted terrorist was no longer alive. Even earlier Mr. Zardari had put forward the same claim, which was not accepted by Washington.
His remarks on Osama being dead run contrary to American belief that al-Qaeda chief is alive and is hiding in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Mr. Zardari said that though democracy is functioning in Pakistan and the government is fighting militants with determination, the most important issue facing the country is the lack of resources.
The army, the civilian government and democracy could yield better results in the war on terror with the support of the international community, he said, adding Pakistan’s security forces could expand the operations against the Taliban if the world community provided support.
Mr. Zardari also said the new US policy that lumps Afghanistan and Pakistan together is a mistake. The “Af-Pak” terminology is wrong and the two countries need to be treated differently, he said.
Zardari also played down concerns that the Afghan election had been tainted by fraud and vote—rigging and said he would attend Hamid Karzai’s swearing in if he is elected for a new term as the President.
“I’ll be there to be with him when he is sworn in because he was here when I was sworn in, so that’s my position,” he said.
Asked about the world community’s fears about vote-rigging, Mr. Zardari said: “I think the judgement is still out on that. And I trust that there are enough international monitors (in Afghanistan) and the Pakistan President does not need to be an extra monitor.”
Mr. Zardari also called for a UN probe into a NATO air strike against hijacked fuel tankers in Afghanistan that killed over 50 people last week.