WASHINGTON — Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that his country wasn't complicit in hiding Osama bin Laden but was "extremely negligent" for not knowing that the al Qaida leader was living a 75-mile drive from the Pakistani capital.
Speaking in Washington, the former military dictator sought to heal a U.S.-Pakistani relationship that's become badly strained since the American raid May 2 that killed bin Laden, saying mutual interests in the global war on terrorism bound the countries and that blaming each other was counterproductive.
"The United States and Pakistan must restore trust," Musharraf told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "Confrontation would be most unwise."
The bin Laden incident pushed U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point in years. American officials weren't happy when, after a decade-long hunt, they found al Qaida's leader living in a garrison town so close to Islamabad. Pakistani officials were outraged that they weren't told about the unilateral raid beforehand.
Since the raid, Pakistan has restricted visas for American officials and expelled military trainers. The U.S. has cut off $800 million, about one-third of its aid to Pakistan's military. The U.S. has long complained of ties between Pakistan's military and insurgent groups that have attacked American-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
But Musharraf said that if Pakistani intelligence had colluded with bin Laden, it also would have known that the CIA was operating a safe house nearby and whisked the al Qaida leader away. He described bin Laden's high-walled compound in the town of Abbottabad as a normal dwelling that wouldn't have raised suspicion.
He also claimed that Abbottabad — which is home to a major military college that's been described as Pakistan's West Point, as well as other military installations — wasn't a garrison town but a touristy resort area with many colleges.
The recent raid was a "violation of sovereignty," Musharraf said, echoing a widespread Pakistani complaint. He added that Pakistani antipathy toward the U.S. also stems from the American campaign of drone strikes on militant targets, which reportedly have caused civilian casualties, as well as lingering bitterness over U.S. sanctions for developing nuclear weapons in the 1990s.
The way forward for Pakistan, Musharraf said, is to show that it isn't complicit with terrorists and to deal with domestic extremism. It also needs to establish an honest, stable government in the 2013 elections, said the former leader, who's expected to mount a run for president.
Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 and resigned in 2008, was a microcosm of the frustration and contradictions that have embodied American policy toward Pakistan.
Mark Quarterman, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington research center, said that many wanted to see Musharraf as a modern, progressive leader: He wasn't an extremist, his wife and daughter didn't wear veils and the family even had a dog, an animal many Muslims view as impure. Ultimately, however, Musharraf's rule was a military dictatorship and, according to many experts, he didn't do enough to rein in Taliban militants who were operating in remote corners of Pakistan.
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