IT was, perhaps, inevitable: a high-profile report on a hugely damaging, and embarrassing, episode in the country’s history was unlikely to remain shrouded in secrecy forever. After this newspaper reported on some of the Abbottabad Commission’s findings and recommendations yesterday, Al Jazeera published the report last evening — and the report appears to pack quite a punch. Did it have to turn out this way, though? Where once the Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s report on the events leading up to the secession of East Pakistan could be suppressed for decades, today there is no such luxury. In the era of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers who can use the global megaphone of a semi-regulated internet, the age of excessive secrecy and the suppression of information that is of legitimate public interest has passed. Indeed, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s ultimate fate underlined the changing times — when an Indian publication began to serialise extracts from the report, Pakistani authorities were forced to do what they long avoided, ie publish the report.
Why was the Abbottabad Commission report, handed over to prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in January, not made public? It is fair assumption that responsibility for the secrecy lay with the military leadership. An institutional culture that focuses more on the embarrassment that will be caused nationally and internationally by a comprehensive official account of any episode that is deemed to undermine national security ends up compounding the original errors. Whether it is Ojhri camp or Kargil or militant attacks on military bases in recent years, the approach is always the same: spill no secrets and promise that the necessary corrective measures have been taken, with no proof of whether that is the case or not. A high-stakes version of ‘trust us, guys’. But ‘trust us, guys’ has only led to bigger mistakes and the fact that Osama bin Laden spent years in Pakistan undetected and that US troops were able to kill him on Pakistani soil and leave undetected is surely one of the more staggering national-security lapses in the country’s history.
Now that the report is out and will be pored over nationally and internationally, there is still time for the government, and the army leadership in particular, to get at least one thing right. A leaked report cannot be the basis of accountability or any prosecutions deemed necessary. The government must — yes, must — officially release the report. Only then can the official narrative begin to be set right.