Pakistan prime minister lambasted for bin Laden 'martyr' remark

Kyodo News

Posted at Jun 26 2020 10:26 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2020 10:27 PM

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan faced mounting criticism Friday for having called Osama bin Laden, the founder of the al-Qaida terrorist group, a "martyr" in a speech in the lower house of parliament the previous day.

Khan, in a speech in the National Assembly, said Pakistan was left embarrassed nine years ago "when the Americans came and killed Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, martyred him."

The status of martyr is given by Muslims to someone who dies fighting for Islam.

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in a raid on his hideout in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, near a military academy, in the wee hours of May 2, 2011 after years of eluding detection.

The remarks by Khan, who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, were denounced by opposition parties and on social media.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of Pakistan People Party that rules the country's only opposition-led province, said Khan was "consistent" in his "appeasement of violent extremism" and likened his policy of simultaneously pursuing ties with the United States to "running with the hare and hunting with the hound."

The other major opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, also came down hard on Khan, with former Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif saying bin Laden "brought terrorism to our country, yet the prime minister has the gall to call him a martyr."

Former Foreign Minister Khurram Dastgir, of the same party, said he will seek a debate in parliament on the issue on Saturday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aisha Farooqui, when asked for comment, deferred to Khan's political aide Shahbaz Gill, who tweeted Thursday, "An unwarranted attempt is being made at home/abroad with a clear intent to make his remarks controversial unnecessarily."

"PM's and Pakistan's commitment against terrorism is unwavering and our track record in eliminating this menace is better than anyone else in the world," he said.

A day earlier, the ministry had reacted to the U.S. State Department's latest annual Country Reports on Terrorism by saying it neglected to acknowledge Pakistan's "crucial role in decimating" al-Qaida.

It said Pakistan was "selectively" criticized for allegedly harboring and allowing the Afghan Taliban, the affiliated Haqqani network and other externally focused terror groups to operate from its soil.

Khan has in the past held a sympathetic view of the Taliban, earning him the "Taliban Khan" moniker which he still struggles to shrug off.

In an television interview in May 2018, he parried questions if he considered bin Laden as a martyr, saying he would not like to comment.