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Osama raid a wake-up call: report

July 10, 2013
Osama bin Laden. — File Photo by AP
Osama bin Laden. — File Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: The Abbottabad Commission has called for strengthening democratic control of state institutions and civilian oversight over so far unaccountable security and intelligence agencies if a national embarrassment like the one caused by the US raid of May 2, 2011, is to be avoided.

The commission, in the penultimate chapter of the 336-page report, made 32 wide ranging recommendations to address the issues identified during the course of its investigations and testimonies by key civilian and military functionaries. But strikingly, its suggestions repeatedly bemoaned “military hegemony” and emphasised on strengthening democracy.

Further intriguingly, the report comes at a time when rumours of cleavages between the newly elected government and the military establishment over the security situation in Balochistan are swirling around.

While it is said that the commission concluded that it was a collective failure at all levels of the government and a series of incidents of negligence and poor policy culminated in the May 2 incident, the report appeared to be quite categorical about whom it found to be responsible as it noted: “The failure was primarily an intelligence-security failure that was rooted in political irresponsibility and military exercise of authority and influence in policy and administrative areas for which it neither had constitutional or legal authority, nor the necessary expertise and competence.”

At another point in an oblique reference to the military and its spy agencies, it said systemic failure in the country was a “concrete outcome and product of acts of commission and omission of specific individuals and institutions, who usurp responsibilities that are not theirs”.

There were several references to frequent military interventions as the cause of national woes, and a warning that threat of revival of military’s “green book ideology” persisted despite the army having faded from the political scenario under Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It further cautioned that without civilian control and democratic rule of law, May 2-like humiliations would continue to revisit the country and at some point threaten its very existence.

The commission was so particular about this core recommendation on civilian control that at one point it observed that “unless the larger picture is addressed specific measures that have been recommended will either not be taken, or if taken, would have negligible effect”.

The solution prescribed was that “all aspects of national policy must be formulated and implemented under representative civilian control, including defence and security policies”.

Addressing the issue of inadequate civilian governance, it said the standards of governance by civilian leaders declined because they were “forcibly displaced, constrained and rendered irrelevant”.

It further said: “The persons that had proper constitutional responsibilities for policy making, administrative and policing duties were in fact even less competent than the military because of effects of an absence of civilian control and participation in national decision making over a very long period.”

But, at the same time the report warned that “farcical democracy” led to “criminal mis-governance” in the democratic control.

It was in this context that in addition to the military’s encroachment on the domain of civilian leadership, the commission also found the then PPP government to be culpable for the systemic failure and hoped that “people of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections would pass a collective judgement”.

CIVILIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES: Appointment of serving or retired military officers during successive army regimes as heads of civilian intelligence outfits, it was found, inhibited their professional and institutional development.

Capacity shortcomings were particularly noticed in cases of the Intelligence Bureau and police -- the two agencies that under a normal situation should have initiated information about the presence of a high value target in any neighbourhood. Since the counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence roles had been arrogated by the ISI to itself and the working of these civilian departments had been crippled by capacity inadequacies, both agencies were able to find an acceptable excuse for themselves.

The commission, therefore, recommended that the IB and police in particular must be properly resourced, trained, granted functional independence and freed from political interference and institutional hegemony of “more powerful and favoured institutions” – an apparent reference to the ISI and MI.

COORDINATION & ACCOUNTABILITY: The commission, while observing an absence of civil-civil and civil-military intelligence coordination mechanisms, proposed establishment of an agency on the lines of the US Department of Homeland Security to synergise the working of at least eight main spy agencies working in the country.

At the same time, it underscored the importance of civilian and parliamentary oversight over the intelligence framework so that the spy agencies do not overstep their mandate.

The report found that well resourced and powerful institutions like the ISI quite often exceeded their mandates, but were never questioned.

“None of the intelligence community, including the premier intelligence organisation which is ISI, have ever been subjected to proper accountability procedures. It is a law of nature that under such circumstances the institutions degenerate and progressively lose competence. This has happened in Pakistan. This will need to be addressed, if the political leadership can summon the will to do so.”

Excessive powers and non-accountability of the intelligence establishment, it added, posed the “greatest threat of state failure to Pakistan”.

MILITARY ARCHITECTURE: The commission regretted that the Joint Staff Headquarters had been reduced to a mere post office due to which it was not delivering the desired results.

The situation, it observed, happened because the army chiefs during military rule remained presidents of the country.

It was, therefore, suggested that a tri-service committee be formed to review the role of the JS Headquarters and recommend measures to the government for restoring its original role.

AGREEMENTS WITH FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS: The commission called for ending all verbal agreements with foreign governments and for recording notes of conversations of top functionaries with foreign leaders.

“The habit of not recording anything is symptomatic of very sick governance... It must cease to be the case in future.”

THREAT ASSESSMENT: The current defence policy was seen by the commission as a reflection of the military’s hegemony over the unwritten national security policy to the exclusion of the civilians.

It pointed out that designating any country as friendly or hostile was not the job of military men, but a prerogative of the elected leadership.

During their testimonies military commanders said they had lowered the guard on the western border, where US forces were present in Afghanistan, for they never expected hostile action from there and had devoted most of their resources to the eastern border, with India.

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL & ADVISER: The commission proposed establishment of a National Security Council as part of the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate national security matters and report to the country’s chief executive.

The national security adviser, it said, should head the council’s secretariat.

The council, it further suggested, should be tasked with forming the national security policy.

COUNTER-TERROR POLICY: The government, to the commission’s dismay, had left it to the US to deal with the external terrorist threat, while internally it relied on the ISI for taking care of terrorists inside the country, which, it said, had an “unfortunate history of instrumental and ideological association with militant religious groups”.

The commission called for amending the Anti-Terrorism Act, Qanoon-i-Shahadat (Law of Evidence), Criminal Procedures Code and Pakistan Penal Code for making counter-terrorism strategies effective.

It also stressed on making the National Counter-Terrorism Authority, formed in 2009, functional and referred to reports of the ISI allegedly hindering it from assuming the central role in the fight against terrorism.

Reminding about the criticality of acting against terrorist networks, some of which enjoyed state patronage, the commission said: “A continued lack of commitment and priority in addressing this problem of illegal, violent and parallel governance in support of extremist agendas through acts of terror in the false garb of sacred causes will progressively sink the country. May 2 was a wakeup call. We ignore it at our peril.”

HIGH VALUE TARGETS: Declaring the May 2 raid as an act of war on Pakistan, the commission criticised the US CIA’s refusal to cooperate with Pakistani security agencies as a criminal act of omission.

It said Pakistan reserved the right to stop cooperating with the CIA unless it reviewed its attitude and all high value targets caught in the country should be tried here first instead of simply being handed over to other countries.

US EMBASSY: The commission maintained that the US embassy had prima facie compromised the diplomatic norms and traditions through its activities.

It also mentioned the expansion and reconstruction of the United States chancery in Islamabad, expressing fear that it could pave way for deeper US penetration in Pakistan.

It asked for use of unspecified “official channels” for dealing with the issue instead of leaving it to the unaccountable institutions — military and ISI.

Dismantling the CIA network and terrorist infrastructure in the country must be a national priority, it said.

For further reading:

Culpable negligence, incompetence at all levels of govt’: report

Findings of Abbottabad Commission: How US reached Osama