ISLAMABAD - Pakistan summoned Tuesday the top U.S. diplomat in the country to formally protest President Donald Trump's allegations that Islamabad had sheltered al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, despite receiving billions of dollars in U.S. assistance.
Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua told American charge d'affairs Paul Jones that Trump's "baseless rhetoric" and unsubstantiated allegations were "totally unacceptable" for her country, according to a foreign ministry statement issued after the meeting.
"Rejecting the insinuations about OBL (Osama bin Laden), Foreign Secretary (Janjua) reminded the U.S. CdA (charge d'affairs) that it was Pakistan's intelligence cooperation that provided the initial evidence to trace the whereabouts of OBL," the statement noted.
This is the first time Pakistan has publicly admitted it had played a role in helping the U.S. locate and kill bin Laden in 2011 during a night helicopter raid on his hideout not far from the country's prime military training academy in Abbottabad.
Until now, Pakistani leaders have insisted state security institutions were unaware of bin Laden's presence in the country and complained Washington conducted the unilateral raid without informing Islamabad.
Janjua stopped short of warning Trump's tirade against Pakistan would undermine bilateral working with the U.S. in coordination with regional stakeholders to seek a politically negotiated end to the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan.
"At this critical juncture, baseless allegations about a closed chapter of history could seriously undermine this vital cooperation," she said.
Afghan peace process
The United States has recently opened direct talks with Taliban officials based in Qatar to try to begin an Afghan peace process. Washington has acknowledged Islamabad's cooperation in furthering the nascent dialogue process with the insurgents whose leaders are allegedly using Pakistani territory for planning attacks on the Afghan side of the border, charges Pakistani officials deny.
Foreign Secretary Janjua recounted her country's unprecedented human and economic losses while fighting the U.S.-led "war on terror" as a partner nation. She noted U.S. leaders repeatedly acknowledged Islamabad's cooperation helped in 'decimating' the al-Qaida network in the region.
"Pakistan's continued support to the efforts of international community in Afghanistan through Ground/Air and Sea lines of communication was unquestionably critical to the success of this Mission in Afghanistan," Janjua noted.
Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also defended his country's successes against terrorism, saying it has done 'much more' for peace in Afghanistan than any other country.
"We have paid the highest military, economic, political and social cost and the world should acknowledge that. We shall continue to contribute towards peace in Afghanistan but Pakistan's honor and Pakistan's security shall always stay premier," an army statement Monday quoted Bajwa as saying.
The United States and NATO continue to heavily rely on Pakistani land and air routes for sending supplies to their troops in landlocked Afghanistan.
FILE - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in beijing, China, Nov. 2, 2018.
Pakistan slams Trump
In an interview with Fox News and subsequent tweets on Monday, Trump asserted that 'everybody in Pakistan' knew bin Laden was hiding in the country, but they withheld the information from the United States, despite receiving $1.3 billion a year in aid.
Trump's tirade angered Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who slammed the American leader for making "false assertions".
Khan noted that Pakistan has suffered 75,000 casualties since joining the "war on terror" and incurred economic losses of more than $123 billion. He added that 'U.S. 'aid' was what he called a 'minuscule' $20 billion.
The traditionally uneasy relations between Pakistan and the U.S. have deteriorated particularly since August 2017, when President Trump announced his South Asia strategy to tackle the resurgent Afghan Taliban. He directly accused Pakistan at the time of sheltering Taliban and other militants involved in deadly cross-border attacks against U.S. troops.
Islamabad swiftly rejected the accusations as politically motivated and stemming from Afghan battlefield setbacks.