By Nic Robertson
CNN Senior International Correspondent
When I first heard Pakistan's President Asif ali Zardari claim Osama bin Laden was dead, my initial reaction was... Not again?
Zardari was elected last September. I met him the night the votes were counted as he celebrated at a beautiful garden party outside a sparkling palace overlooking the capital. He was charming. His aides told me I could ask one question only, that I'd get a longer interview later. That was seven months ago and I'm still waiting.
I learned then the president's team rarely give him camera time one-on-one with reporters. When faced with three of them Tuesday he appears to have inadvertently stumbled in to creating a headline he didn't intend because barely three hours later his own prime minister contradicted him. He said they have no such evidence Osama bin Laden is dead and wasn't aware of the president's comments.
Before Zardari came to office his predecessor's officials regularly briefed reporters bin Laden was dead. Why? To deflect criticism the al Qaeda leader may be hiding in Pakistan. They would tell us they had no information about him therefore he must be dead. They'd often follow that with a line about, well if the CIA knows where he is in Pakistan why don't they tell us.
President Zardari appeared to be treading perilously close to those same confusing statements. The trouble is when a head of state says bin Laden is dead it is hard to ignore. For many observers of Pakistan's often tumultuous politics the bin Laden news spike has the hallmark of a disconnect between the country's two leading men that they say is indicative of the country's faltering politics. Not that these two good friends are falling out just they seem out of step when the country and the world are looking to them for a coherent path forward against the growing menace of an emboldened Taliban.
The read I have is that if bin Laden were dead, which I hasten to add we have no evidence for at this stage, President Zardari is unlikely to be the one to break the news to the world. The al Qaeda leader still has enough supporters in this country that if Pakistan were hinted to have a hand in his demise the backlash would last for weeks.
The only caveat I offer is that Osama bin Laden is a big dark secret and any time, any day we may learn he has met his maker, but expect a few more false starts before that happens.