Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan, press secretary to the president of Pakistan, tells ABC News that -- if found -- Osama bin Laden won't be arrested, as long as he promises to behave like a "peaceful citizen."
"If he is in Pakistan, bin Laden 'would not be taken into custody,' Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told ABC News in a telephone interview, 'as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen," report Brian Ross and Gretchen Peters at ABC's blog, The Blotter.
"No, as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen, one would not be taken into custody," said Khan. "One has to stay like a peaceful citizen and not allowed to participate in any kind of terrorist activity."
"The surprising announcement comes as Pakistani army officials announced they were pulling their troops out of the North Waziristan region as part of a 'peace deal' with the Taliban," reports ABC.
Pakistan will also be returning many Taliban prisoners and seized weapons.
According to VOA, "security experts say Afghan insurgents and remnants of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network have managed to establish several bases in the region."
Earlier today, President Bush cited Pakistan's help in working together "to stop the world's most dangerous men from getting their hands on the world's most dangerous weapons," in a speech on the global war on terror he gave in Washington, D.C. to the Military Officers Association of America.
"Working with Great Britain and Pakistan and other nations, the United States shut down the world's most dangerous nuclear trading cartel, the AQ Khan network," Bush had said. "This network had supplied Iran and Libya and North Korea with equipment and know-how that advanced their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons."
The president also said that "we're working with friends and allies to deny the terrorists the enclaves they seek to establish in ungoverned areas across the world."
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, famously known as the "father of Pakistan's nuclear program," was dismissed from his position as Science Adviser to President Musharraf in January of 2004 but was never arrested. A month later, after apologizing to the nation on television, Musharraf pardoned A.Q. Khan.
Reports of al Qaeda in Pakistan
It has recently been reported that al Qaeda's production company, As Sahab, is based in Pakistan.
"Five years after 9/11, Pakistan appears to have replaced Afghanistan as the group's center of gravity," reported CNN. "Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be in the more remote parts of this country."
"Waziristan is one of the places where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are thought to have hidden out and where As Sahab produces its work," wrote Henry Schuster for CNN.
Two-and-a-half years ago, after reports surfaced that al-Zawahiri had been "captured or killed" in Pakistan, Shaukat Sultan Khan, then spokesman for the Army, said that nobody could "be confident" about such news.
"It can't be said with certainty who is here and who is not here," said Shaukat Sultan Khan in March of 2004.
"In effect, the Pakistani government said today as long as bin Laden and the Taliban promise to behave they can stay in Pakistan and will not be taken into custody," reported Brian Ross on ABC's broadcast Tuesday evening.
ABC noted that the deal with Taliban militants "comes just six months after President Bush said Pakistani President Musharraf was committed to victory against terrorists."
"Mr. President and I reaffirmed our shared commitment to a broad and lasting strategic partnership," Bush had said in a joint press conference with Musharraf held during his March visit to Pakistan. "And that partnership begins with close cooperation in the war on terror."
In that press conference, a reporter asked the president if the United States was "getting the access and the help that it needs to go after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."
"The best way to defeat al Qaeda is to find -- is to share good intelligence to locate them, and then to be prepared to bring them to justice," Bush had said.
News that Pakistan will "in effect" leave Osama bin Laden alone if he behaves "peacefully" in the region is certain to cause a stir less than a week before the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Democrats, as well as many Republicans, may characterize Pakistan's stance as going against President Bush's 2001 declaration that nations which harbor terrorists should be considered "hostile."
"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make," Bush told the world on September 20, 2001. "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
"From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime," Bush had declared.
After Bush's speech today, Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee, accused the president of losing "focus" on the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
"Because President Bush lost focus on the killers who attacked us and instead launched a disastrous war in Iraq, today Osama bin Laden and his henchmen still find sanctuary in the no man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they still plot attacks against America," said Kerry.
Early Wednesday morning, ABC reported that Pakistan was now denying "it would allow Osama bin Laden to avoid capture under terms of a peace agreement it signed with Taliban leaders in the country's North Waziristan area," and that the Pakistani military spokesman had been "grossly misquoted."
"'If he is in Pakistan, today or any time later, he will be taken into custody and brought to justice,' the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, said in a statement," according to The Blotter.