ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Outraged Pakistanis stepped up calls Saturday for top government officials to resign after the daring American helicopter raid that killed Osama bin Laden and embarrassed the nation.
Some of the sharpest language was directed at the army and intelligence chiefs, a rare challenge to arguably the two most powerful men in the country, who are more accustomed to being feared than publicly criticized.
The Pakistani army has said it had no idea bin Laden was hiding for up to six years in Abbottabad, an army town only two and a half hours' drive from the capital, Islamabad. That claim has met with skepticism from U.S. officials, who have repeatedly criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on Islamist militants.
But with anti-American sentiment already high in the South Asian nation, many Pakistani citizens were more incensed by the fact that the country's military was powerless to stop the American raid.
Some lawmakers and analysts expressed hope that civilian leaders can seize on this anger to chip away at the military's power, but others doubt that even an embarrassment of this scale will shake the status quo.
Zafar Iqbal, a 61-year-old retired bureaucrat in the central city of Lahore, singled out the leaders of Pakistan's army, air force and the main intelligence organization — Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman and Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha — saying they all should be forced to resign.
"All three of these men have brought insult to us, and they deserve all the punishment," said Iqbal.
It is unclear whether anyone will actually be forced to step down. The Pakistani government is viewed by many as totally unresponsive to the numerous woes plaguing the nation, from a struggling economy to frequent terrorist attacks.
"It is not time to sprinkle salt on wounds," said Pakistan's Information Minister Firdous Aashiq Awan when asked about the calls for senior officials to resign. "It is time to apply ointment on the nation's wounds."
The Pakistani military also denied reports that Pasha, chief of the shadowy spy agency known as the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, planned to resign in the wake of the bin Laden raid.
Former Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a lawmaker for the ruling Pakistan People's Party, fixed the blame squarely on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani — likely motivated in part by past conflict with the two men. "It is for the president and prime minister to resign and no one else," Qureshi told reporters Saturday in the central city of Lahore.
Others held out little hope that Pakistan's civilian leaders have the skill and authority to take on the army, irrespective of the ripples from the bin Laden raid.
"Can we fix ourselves? Take a look around. Does anyone think Asif Zardari has what it takes?" Cyril Almeida wrote on Friday in an editorial in Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper, Dawn.
Zardari and Gilani met with the head of Pakistan's army, Kayani, and other senior officials in Islamabad on Saturday to discuss the bin Laden raid, said the prime minister's office. Gilani plans to brief Parliament about the raid on Monday.