Pakistan’s President says Osama bin Laden could be dead
(TELEGRAPH) Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has raised the prospect that Osama bin Laden could be dead after he said that intelligence officials could find “no trace” of the al-Qaeda chief.
He said that neither his own advisers in Pakistan nor US intelligence agencies had detected any trace of the al-Qaeda leader since Al Jazeera television broadcast an audio recording of his voice in March.
But even then, unlike on previous occasions the authenticity of the voice purporting to be bin Laden was not confirmed by the CIA.
There have been regular reports of bin Laden’s ill health, notably speculation about his kidneys failing. Mr Zardari said his own advisers believed there was substance to the rumours.
“The question is whether he is alive or dead. There is no trace of him,” he said.
“There is no news. They obviously feel that he does not exist any more but that’s not confirmed.”
Mr Zardari’s predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, similarly suggested that the Saudi terror chief could be dead. But US officials have repeatedly stated that bin Laden could yet be hiding in the mountainous region straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Mr Zardari’s comments came as he sought to reassure the international community that it need not worry over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had voiced her fears that they could fall into Taliban hands if the Pakistani government failed to halt the militants’ advance throughout its North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Militants were last week repelled from their positions in Buner, just 60 miles from the capital Islamabad.
Her remarks followed earlier claims to a US Congressional committee that Pakistan was “abdicating to the Taliban” by making peace deals in places like the Swat Valley, where ministers had agreed to introduce Sharia law in exchange for an end to a militant insurgency.
That latest deal is unravelling after the Pakistan army killed 46 Taliban fighters in the space of two days, including two senior commanders in Malakand’s Lower Dir district, in a series of helicopter gunship strikes.
They were called in after the NWFP government said the Taliban had broken the truce deal by pushing beyond the Swat Valley to neighbouring districts like Buner and Lower Dir.
A Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, last night warned his fighters would attack government forces throughout the district if the government did not immediately halt its offensive.