Usama bin Laden and the top Al Qaeda leadership are not in Pakistan, making U.S. missile attacks against them futile, according to the country’s interior minister.

“If Osama was in Pakistan we would know, with all the thousands of troops we have sent into the tribal areas in recent months,” Rehman Malik told The Sunday Times. “If he and all these four or five top people were in our area they would have been caught, the way we are searching.”

He added: “According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.”

Pakistani officials say the U.S. has carried out more than 40 attacks inside its borders in the past 10 months, killing hundreds of people.

CIA officials claim these attacks have been highly effective in disrupting Al Qaeda’s ability to operate. However, Malik insists they are a waste of time because the Al Qaeda leadership is on the other side of the border in eastern Afghanistan.

“They’re getting mid-level people not big fish,” he said. “And they are counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government. We try to win people’s hearts, then one drone attack drives them away. One attack alone last week killed 50 people.”

U.S. officials in Islamabad say Pakistan’s government is being disingenuous, claiming to oppose the drone attacks to win domestic support, while being quite happy to benefit from them.

On Friday two missiles fired from a drone destroyed a communications centre in South Waziristan that belonged to Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban responsible for a recent string of suicide attacks in Pakistan.

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