3 May 2011

Cameron: Britain will continue to support Pakistan

Britain shares the “same struggle against terrorism” with Pakistan, David Cameron says, pledging his support for Pakistan’s President in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death.

President Zardari denies knowledge of bin Laden hideout. (Reuters)

Pakistan‘s President Asif Ali Zardari has denied claims that there must have been knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda cell, which was just 100m from the Pakistani Military Academy.

Mr Zardari hit back at the charge that his country cannot deal with the threat of terrorism after allegations Osama bin Laden‘s presence had been known for some time.

David Cameron said bin Laden “must have had an extensive support network in Pakistan”. However, he added that Pakistan has suffered greatly at the hands of Bin Laden, who was their enemy too.

The death of Osama Bin Laden will have important consequences for the security of our people at home and abroad and for our foreign policy. David Cameron

The Prime Minister said the myth of bin Laden was one of freedom fighter, a leader of Muslims, “but he was actually a mass murderer of Muslims all over the world”.

He said: “As the head of a family group for United Airlines flight 93 put it: ‘We are raised obviously never to hope for someone’s death, we are willing to make an exception in this case. He was evil personified and our world is a better place without him.'”

Mr Cameron said Britain’s resolve against terrorism today is as strong as it was in September 2001. “I believe it is in Britain’s national interest to recognise that with Pakistan we share the same struggle against terrorism. That is why we will continue to work with our Pakistani counterparts on intelligence gathering, tracing plots and taking action to stop them,” Mr Cameron said.

In the Washington Post Mr Zardari said Pakistan “has never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticism that is often described by the media”, despite US officials describing it as “inconceivable” that a terrorism support system for bin Laden was not in place in Pakistan.

CIA director Leon Panetta told Time magazine that there was concern that Pakistan “might alert the targets” in the bin Laden operation.

The compound in Abbottabad, where the leader of al-Qaeda was finally discovered and killed after a ten-year search, is just a few hundred metres from the Pakistan Military Academy.

More of our soldiers have died than all of NATO’s casualties combined. 2,000 police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress for our people have been lost. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari

Despite this proximity, President Zardari drew on the losses his country have felt at the hands of al-Qaeda as proof that his armed forces had no knowledge of bin Laden’s final hiding place.

BLOG: Jon Snow – Obama wins where Carter lost

He said: “More of our soldiers have died than all of Nato’s casualties combined. 2,000 police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress for our people have been lost.”

Mr Zardari reiterated that he intended to work in conjunction with President Obama’s administration to combat terrorism, writing that “a decade of co-operation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilised world”.

Mr Cameron said today: “The death of Osama Bin Laden will have important consequences for the security of our people at home and abroad and for our foreign policy; including our partnership with Pakistan, our military action in Afghanistan and the wider fight against terrorism across the world.”

He said it would provide a new opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together in order to achieve stability on both sides of the border. “We should take this opportunity to send a clear message to the Taliban: now is the time to separate themselves from al-Qaeda and to participate in a peaceful political process,” he added.

Obama watched raid on videolink

Photographs have been issued by the White House showing President Obama watching the mission that he officially actioned unfold in Pakistan. His role in preparing the mission – conducting months of meetings with security advisers and ordering a covert undercover mission rather than a simple airstrike on bin Laden hideaway – has been widely reported.

In the pictures President Obama is shown with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, among many other senior defence officials.

Minutes passed like days and the President was concerned about security of his personnel. John Brennan

Mr Brennan described the tension in the meeting room as the group watched a livestream of the events: “There was a fair degree of silence as the operation progressed. Minutes passed like days and the president was concerned about security of his personnel.”

President Obama is believed to have declared “we got him” when the confirmation came through that bin Laden had been killed, and the pictures show the President sharing a handshake with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen.

The president received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats as he addressed Congress. The mission in northern Pakistan is far from the “no-drama Obama” image that has clouded his term so far. His chances of winning a second election may be massively improved by the most important military development in over a decade.

Sense of justice for loved ones

Mr Cameron congratulated Mr Obama and praised the courage and skill of the American special forces who carried out the operation.

“It is a strike at the heart of international terrorism and a great achievement for America and for all who’ve joined in the long struggle to defeat al-Qaeda,” he said. The Prime Minister added that we should remember in particular the brave servicemen and women from Britain who had given their lives in the fight against terrorism across the world and should pay tribute especially to those British forces who had played their part in the hunt for bin Laden.

“Nothing will bring back the loved ones who have been lost, and of course there is no punishment at our disposal that can remotely fit the many appalling crimes for which he was responsible, but I hope that at least for the victims’ families there is now some sense of justice being served as a long, dark chapter in their lives is finally closed,” Mr Cameron said.