Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief said today he knew Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan four years ago, but his claims were rejected by the country’s leaders.
In an interview broadcast on CBS’ 60 Minutes TV programme, Amrullah Saleh said Afghan intelligence thought bin Laden was in the Pakistani city of Mansehra - about 12 miles away from Abbottabad, where the terrorist leader was eventually found and killed by US Navy SEALs.
Mr Saleh has become a prominent critic of Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban and says Pakistan should be recognised by the US as “a hostile country”.
He told CBS: “They take your money. They do not co-operate. They created the Taliban. They are number one in nuclear proliferation.”
Meanwhile US senator John Kerry warned that already shaky US-Pakistani relations had reached a critical juncture as calls grew to cut some of the billions of dollars in aid to Islamabad following bin Laden's killing.
Mr Kerry, who spoke in Afghanistan before travelling to Pakistan, said sober and serious discussion was needed to resolve the widening rift amid growing suspicion that Pakistan’s security forces were complicit in harbouring the al-Qaida leader, who was killed on May 2.
For its part, Pakistan is angry that it was not told about the raid in Abbottabad until after it was completed. That prompted accusations that its sovereignty had been violated.
Nevertheless Mr Kerry – chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the most senior American official to travel to Pakistan since the raid occurred – sounded a hopeful tone.
“I think for the moment we want to be hopeful and optimistic that we can work our way through this, get over this hiccup, and find a positive path forward,” he said.
But he made clear that patience was running thin in Washington after it was discovered that the terror leader had been living for years in a compound in a military garrison town that includes Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.
“I think the important thing here is not to get into a recriminatory finger pointing, accusatory back and forth. The important thing is to understand that major, significant events have taken place in last days that have a profound impact on what we have called the war on terror, a profound impact on our relationship as a result,” Mr Kerry told reporters in the Afghan capital Kabul.
The Massachusetts Democrat said “we need to find a way to march forward if it is possible. If it is not possible, there are a set of downside consequences that can be profound”. He did not elaborate.
Mr Kerry’s trip also comes amid growing condemnation from Pakistani leaders, military officials, politicians and Islamic hardliners of the US raid on bin Laden, as well as frequent drone strikes.
Pakistan’s parliament has threatened to stop US and Nato supply convoys if the strikes continue.
Yesterday a prominent hardline Islamist leader with suspected militant ties drew at least 4,000 people to a rally in Lahore in support of bin Laden.
Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, called bin Laden a martyr and demanded the Pakistani government break ties with the US for killing him.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is suspected of carrying out a series of attacks in Mumbai, India, in 2008, that killed 166 people.