Dawn News

National embarrassment

NOT since Abdul Qadeer Khan confessed to transferring nuclear technology to Iran and Libya has Pakistan suffered such embarrassment. Right under our military's nose was found Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man of the decade, living in relative comfort in a compound with stringent security that somehow went unnoticed. Nor was this man simply an enemy of other countries; he and his ideology have exacted a stunning death toll in Pakistan over the last few years. Add to this the way he was killed, and embarrassment turns into deep shame. US forces operating independently of Pakistani authorities flew from the Afghan border across our territory to Abbottabad in helicopters and then conducted a 40-minute fire fight at Bin Laden's safe house — again, a building located within walking and visual distance of the Pakistan Military Academy. They killed Bin Laden, among others, and flew off with his body. In the process, one helicopter crashed for technical reasons and was blown up by the Americans to destroy evidence.

We are to believe that all of this took place without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities, at least according to the official line. Both the Foreign Office statement on Monday and President Zardari's column in the Washington Post yesterday deny Pakistani involvement in the operation. All this leaves us with is multiple sources of embarrassment and worry. It implies that foreign military helicopters were able to travel undetected across our airspace, transporting highly trained operatives who conducted a dramatic operation without being interrupted by any Pakistani law-enforcement agency or the military. The logical conclusion of this is that our defences, including radars that can identify foreign aircraft, are shockingly weak. If so, it is legitimate to ask how the defence budget this country can ill afford is being spent, and whether other countries would be able to infiltrate Pakistani territory as easily as America did.

If, on the other hand, the vague response by the government is hiding the truth of the matter, Pakistani authorities must come clean about our civilian and military involvement — if any. It is understandable that perhaps select details cannot be revealed for security reasons. But the current strategy of not being forthright both insults the intelligence of Pakistani citizens and heightens concerns about the quality of our counter-terrorism intelligence and operations and the strength of our borders. It is also resulting in unfounded speculation and conspiracy theories, a situation worsened by some television talk show hosts and guests spreading misinformation by filling the void with their own guesswork.


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