ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Outraged Pakistanis stepped up calls Saturday for top government officials to resign following the daring American helicopter raid that killed Osama bin Laden and embarrassed the nation.
Some of the sharpest language was directed at the army and intelligence chiefs, a rare challenge to arguably the two most powerful men in the country, who are more accustomed to being feared than publicly criticized.
The Pakistani army has said it had no idea bin Laden was hiding for up to six years in Abbottabad, an army town only two and a half hours’ drive from the capital, Islamabad. That claim has met with skepticism from U.S. officials, who have repeatedly criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on Islamist militants.
But with anti-American sentiment already high in the South Asian nation, many Pakistani citizens were more incensed by the fact that the country’s military was powerless to stop the American raid.
Some lawmakers and analysts expressed hope that civilian leaders can seize on this anger to chip away at the military’s power, but others doubt that even an embarrassment of this scale will shake the status quo.
“It was an attack on our soil, and the army was sleeping,” said Zafar Iqbal, a 61-year-old retired bureaucrat in the eastern city of Lahore.
He singled out the leaders of Pakistan’s army, air force and the main intelligence organization – Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman and Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha – saying they all should be forced to resign.
The direct criticism of Kayani and Pasha was particularly striking because the two men enjoy a vaunted status in Pakistan due to their role in protecting the country from external threats, especially archenemy India. Some also feared that bad-mouthing the shadowy spy agency, known as the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, could cause trouble.
U.S. Navy SEALs swooped into Abbottabad by helicopter before dawn Monday, killed bin Laden and were on their way back to Afghanistan before the army could respond. The army has said it had no prior knowledge of the operation – a claim backed up by the U.S.
“No one other than the ISI and army chiefs are responsible for this disgrace of American attacks on our homeland,” said Jaffar Ali, a 35-year-old bank employee in the southern city of Karachi. “It is a complete failure of our security.”