Pakistan’s new spy chief briefed lawmakers Wednesday in an unusual private session focused on the fledgling government’s fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants entrenched in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
The government called the special session of parliament as it sought political unity to stabilize this key U.S. ally in the war on terror. Officials said the briefing was an effort to include opposition parties in the policy discussion.
Some lawmakers said they expected to be sworn to secrecy.
“We are fighting the war against terrorism and we will welcome any good advice or suggestion,” Law Minister Farooq Naek said before the meeting began.
Army spokesman Maj. Murad Khan confirmed that the army general newly appointed as head of the country’s main spy agency, Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, was talking to lawmakers.
Pakistan and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who is rumored to be hiding somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghan border, came up during the U.S. presidential debate Tuesday night.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama said if the U.S. had a chance to attack bin Laden on Pakistani soil, it should do so if Pakistan was unable or unwilling. Republican John McCain chided Obama as being too bellicose, characterizing his statement as a plan to “attack Pakistan” – something Obama denied.
Pakistan’s pro-Western President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has pleaded with the U.S. to halt stepped up cross-border operations – usually missile strikes – into Pakistan’s border areas, saying they only fuel sympathy for extremists.
An opposition leader and ex-premier, Nawaz Sharif, warned that a national counterterrorism policy cannot be crafted overnight.
“This needs a detailed discussion and deliberation in the parliament for days to reach a consensus national policy to counter the threat of terrorism,” Sharif told reporters.
Zardari has urged ordinary Pakistanis to recognize the danger that Taliban and al-Qaida-linked extremists pose to their country, especially since last month’s deadly suicide truck bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel.
But many here blame their country’s front-line role in the U.S.-led war on terror for the bloodshed, arguing Pakistan should not be fighting “America’s war.”
The joint session of the upper and lower houses of parliament was expected to include an overview of ongoing military operations in militant strongholds near the border with Afghanistan
U.S. officials concerned about an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan have praised Pakistan’s two-month-old offensive in the Bajur tribal region that the Pakistani military claims has killed more than 1,000 insurgents. The U.S. says the militants use Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan.
At least 12 suspected militants were killed in fresh strikes Wednesday in the region, local authorities said.
Security was tight around the parliament building, with concrete barriers and barbed wire ringing a large perimeter outside the facility. The media was not allowed in and calls to several lawmakers were not returned.
As he headed to the session, Shahbaz Bhatti, a lawmaker from Zardari’s party, said he expected the government’s briefing to “take the representatives of the people into confidence about the difficulties it is facing because of the activities of the militants.”
Lawmakers were told they could ask questions, he said.