ISLAMABAD: More than 36 hours after the US killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a stunning operation in the garrison town of Abbottabad, embarrassed Pakistani leadership tried on Tuesday evening to shrug off some of the discomfiture and, for the first time, came up with its own narrative of the events that had led to the detection and eventual elimination of Bin Laden, while reminding the Americans that their unilateral action should be an exception and not a rule.
“This event of unauthorised unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule. The government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US. Such actions undermine cooperation and may also some time constitute threat to international peace and security,” a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.
“The government of Pakistan expresses its deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorisation from the government of Pakistan.”
‘Red lines’ earlier conveyed to the Obama administration by Pakistan had specifically stressed on ‘no foreign boots on Pakistani soil’.
The statement spelt out why it was taking the raid as an exception.
“The government of Pakistan recognises that the death of Osama bin Laden is an important milestone in fight against terrorism and that the government of Pakistan and its state institutions have been making serious efforts to bring him to justice.”
The statement, however, appeared to be contradicting the initial official reaction issued on Monday which was seen by many as an attempt to possibly express helplessness about, if not justify, the US Navy Seal strike team’s incursion under CIA command. It said: “This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world.”
Information Minister Firdous Awan had gone one step further by giving it the cover of international law when she said the US action had been conducted in exercise of a UNSC resolution.
Was Tuesday’s reaction just an afterthought? Or did the blowback the military got over the perceived violation of national sovereignty push the Foreign Office to restate its policy of ‘no tolerance’ for foreign military action on its soil?
The message, on the face of it, seemed to have been designed to silence public criticism and questioning at home about the conduct of the operation, but it also contained a nuanced note for the international audience, particularly India, which has been mulling plans for a long time for targeting groups based on Pakistani soil it consider as a threat.
In this context the statement reminded the international community of Pakistan’s cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts, including the arrest of some high-profile terrorists.
“Pakistan, being mindful of its international obligations, has been extending full and proper cooperation on all counter-terrorism efforts, including exchange of information and intelligence. Pursuant to such cooperation, Pakistan had arrested several high-profile terrorists.”
Further cautioning against any future incursion, the statement reminded about the importance of public support for the military and government, which it feared to lose if a unilateral action was to happen again.
“The government of Pakistan and its armed forces consider support of the people of Pakistan to be its mainstay and actual strength. Any actions contrary to their aspirations, therefore, run against the very basis on which the edifice of national defence and security is based.”
Telling the Pakistani version of how US detected Osama’s presence in Abbottabad, the statement said that ISI had been sharing information about the compound, which was raided by the US forces, with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009. This flow of information about presence of foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad continued till mid-April.
“It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior technological assets, CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden, a fact also acknowledged by the US president and secretary of state, in their statements.”
The statement reiterated that neither the country’s civilian nor military leadership had knowledge of the US operation in advance.
It recalled that Pakistan Air Force had reacted to the incident by scrambling its jets into action.
While the Foreign Office said PAF had gone into action minutes after the receipt of information, a statement by White House Adviser John Brennan used to corroborate that indicated that PAF fighters weren’t able to detect the invading aircraft.