It is a story that will not go away — and rightly so. A new, sensational account of the run-up to the May 2, 2011 American raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden alleges that not only did the then army leadership know of the American raid beforehand but that the Pakistan Army had imprisoned bin Laden for many years in the city.
The Seymour Hersh account in the London Review of Books appears to mainly take aim at US President Barack Obama’s and the White House’s version of the events that led to the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist.
But in doing so it attempts to take apart the standard story proffered inside Pakistan — that the army leadership had no knowledge of the Al Qaeda chief’s presence in Abbottabad nor did it in any way facilitate the American raid to kill him. In the days to come, there will surely be official denials and sundry attacks made on Mr Hersh’s version of events.
Careful scrutiny of the LRB story is in fact required as it contains several perplexing theories and an alternative version of events. But neither should it be lost that Mr Hersh appears largely sympathetic to the Pakistan Army, both in the LRB piece and in comments to this newspaper yesterday, and that the central premise of his article is to dismantle the Obama administration’s version of events.
It is clearly not a hatchet job on Pakistan. Which leaves at least three basic points to be made here. First, where is the official Pakistani version of events, the Abbottabad Commission report?
Buried after initial promises that it would be made public, one version of the report has already seen the light of day via a leaked copy to Al Jazeera. That version alone contains a deep, systematic, even fundamental critique of the manner in which the ISI operates.
Surely, it is morally and legally indefensible of the state to hide from the public the only systematic inquiry into the events surrounding perhaps the most humiliating incident in decades here. National security will not be undermined by the publication of a report; national security was undermined by the presence of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.
Second, it is long overdue for parliament to have oversight of the intelligence apparatus. The military itself projects its intelligence wings as omnipresent and omniscient — surely, it is parliament that ought to be omnipotent, able to inquire into anything done by any branch of the state in the name of public security and the national interest.
Nor is it really a question of who will bell the cat — if parliament were to indicate any interest, the military would be unable to fend off oversight entirely. Finally, the Hersh report underlines an age-old truth: while supreme civilians may not always be truthful, they are always accountable — something a military-dominated set-up can never be.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2015