Pakistan bans international media from entering the area around Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.
Pakistan may grant the US access to three detained wives of Osama bin Laden, who were with the al-Qaeda leader when he was killed last week, an unnamed US official familiar with the matter has said.
However, senior Pakistani government officials said on Tuesday that no decision had been made yet on the US request as the authorities continue an inquiry into the matter.
“The Pakistanis now appear willing to grant access. Hopefully they will carry through on the signals they are sending,” the US official said.
|Granting the US access to bin Laden’s wives could help stabilise relations between the countries [GALLO/GETTY]
The Obama administration has demanded access to operatives of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, and bin Laden’s wives to try to obtain more information on al-Qaeda, as it probes bin Laden’s support network in Pakistan.
At a press conference on Tuesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said: “We obviously are very interested in getting access to the three wives that you mentioned, as well as the information or material that the Pakistanis collected after US forces left.”
The wives and several children were among 15 or 16 people taken into custody by Pakistani forces after US navy SEAL commandos raided bin Laden’s compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
It is not clear why US commandos did not take bin Laden’s widows with them to be interviewed after the raid.
Tensions are rising between Washington and Islamabad as the US operation caused much embarrassment for Pakistan, which has for years denied the world’s most wanted man was on its soil.
Islamabad is under pressure to explain how the al-Qaeda leader was living in Abbottabad, a short distance from Pakistan’s main military academy, for up to six years.
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It also faces criticism at home over the perceived violation of its sovereignty by the US commando team, which failed to inform in advance Pakistani authorities of the bin Laden raid.
Granting the US access to the al-Qaeda leaders’ wives could help stabilise relations between Washington and Islamabad which have been strained since the May 2 operation.
Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan’s prime minister, admitted on Monday that that there had been an intelligence failure. But he added that the blame should be shared by “the intelligence agencies of the world”.
‘Braced for Pakistani intervention’
New details about planning for the mission revealed by senior US officials show that Barack Obama, the US president, was willing to risk a military confrontation with Pakistan for bin Laden, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
About 10 days ahead of the mission, President Obama ordered a bigger force to be sent into Pakistan to be ready for a potential hostile intervention by local police and troops, senior Obama administration and military officials told the Times on condition of anonymity.
“… [I]nstructions were to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. But if they had to return fire to get out, they were authorised to do it,” one senior official said.
“Some people may have assumed we could talk our way out of a jam, but given our difficult relationship with Pakistan right now, the president did not want to leave anything to chance,” another official said. “[President Obama] wanted extra forces if they were necessary.”
There were also contingency plans against an imminent confrontation for senior American officials including joint chiefs of staff chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, to call their Pakistani counterparts to prevent a bigger armed clash, the Times reported, citing more unnamed officials.