OVER a year after it was formed, the commission set up to investigate the Osama bin Laden raid has yet to deliver its findings. In that time it has spoken with dozens of civilian and military officials and members of Bin Laden’s family. At a December press conference the head of the body said it would complete its work soon, and as far back as January a member of the commission had told this newspaper that almost all interviews and investigation had been completed, that the writing process was under way, and that it should take about a month to complete it. Since then, several new deadlines have come and gone, including in May and June of this year.
There was reason for hope when the commission was formed. Unlike the parliamentary resolution calling for it, it was tasked with establishing not just why and how the raid took place, but also with looking into Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. Instead, the long delay is simply creating the impression that this critical national incident, like so many other controversial political events and security failures in Pakistan’s history, might also remain shrouded in secrecy. The longer the report is delayed, the more tempting it will be to believe that making public the facts of the matter would be too uncomfortable for those in the civilian or military establishments. But there is also a perception among those following the commission’s work that its report will likely not fix concrete responsibility or name specific individuals, especially when it comes to the security establishment. That would be a disservice to Pakistan — and would make this body as redundant as others that have recently failed to take a stand, such as the Saleem Shahzad commission — and make it even more unclear why there has been such a delay in releasing the findings.
May 2, 2011 was arguably Pakistan’s most embarrassing and shocking military failure after the loss of East Pakistan, which brings to mind the Hamoodur Rehman commission’s findings. That report was kept under wraps for nearly 30 years before it was declassified after a leak. Many other events in Pakistan’s history that deserve to have been unearthed remain opaque years and decades later. Given the pace of developments in this country, it is all too easy to keep important discoveries private while the nation gets caught up in the latest political drama or security failure. With the stakes in the May 2 case being as high as they are, there is reason for concern that the same is happening with the findings of the Abbottabad commission.