PAKISTAN this week has been confronted with a deeply unsettling question.
Could the self-appointed custodians of the national interest themselves be the greatest threat to national security?
There is no joy in asking this. Pakistan exists in a tough neighbourhood. A strong and vibrant army is necessary and desirable. But as the initial shock and disbelief wears off, there is a deep, deep sense of unease here.
Did they know he was here? Surely, they knew he was here?
Nobody has come out and said it openly yet. It’s too early, the story still unfolding. Ask the question in private, though, and with hand on heart, no one will say anything but, yes, they knew he was there.
Some do try and clutch at straws. Maybe they didn’t know. Maybe they’re so daft they didn’t really take this whole business of pursuing Al Qaeda seriously. Maybe they just didn’t think it was their problem.
But those voices, unconvinced by their own words, quickly trail off … They knew. They knew he was there.
It’s too frightening to make sense of. The world’s most-wanted terrorist. A man who triggered the longest war in American history. The terrorist mastermind the world’s only superpower has moved heaven and earth to track down. A decade of hunting. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent. The blood of countless Americans and others spilled.
And when he was finally found, he was found wrapped in the bosom of the Pakistani security establishment.
Away from the bleatings of the ghairat brigade — the paranoid schizophrenics marching this country into the abyss — theshock is profound. Grim questions are etched on anxious faces, but so is fear of the answers.
Proud men and women, people who love and serve their country, have cried as they connect yet another dot in the horrifying
trajectory this country is on. If we didn’t know, we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state. But does anybody really believe they didn’t know?
Why would they do it? What did they hope to gain? Pakistan has nothing in common with Al Qaeda. They serve no purpose to us; there is no confluence of interests that can be imagined.
Did we think we could produce him like a rabbit out of the hat when we needed to? Did we think if we turned him over, the American attention span would lapse and they’d move on, leaving us unable to suckle at the teats of the superpower?
Or, assured in our assumptions about the world around us, did we simply think we could get away with it?
It makes no sense. And yet, perhaps there was an inevitability to this. Did the 1965 war make any sense? It was hard to find any sense to it then, even less so today.
Did Kargil make any sense? Not then, not today.
Did hawking nuclear paraphernalia on the international market make any sense? Buying did perhaps, but selling? And now we have the world’s most-wanted terrorist recovered from the bosom of the Pakistani security establishment.
So maybe it does make sense after all. The establishment has flirted with irrationality in the past. Now it appears to have perfected it.
Where do we go from here as a country?
As long as national security and foreign policy remain in the hands of a cabal of generals — unaccountable and untouchable, a lay unto themselves, and in thrall to their own irrational logic — what future can this country have? Surely, not much of a future.
Is self-correction an option? Good luck trying to find anyone in the homeland or beyond with even a modicum of knowledge and understanding of the institution who believes it is capable of reforming itself.
What you will find are retired officers who will tell you what it feels like to be the masters of the universe, part of the inner core of the establishment. How your feet leave the ground as the world gathers beneath you, bowing and scraping for crumbs thrown their way. The view from the inside, the inner core, is of limitless power. The view from the outside is of a perch almost designed to abjure humility and rationality.
What you will find are bureaucrats with decades of experience who ultimately concede that peace with India is unacceptable to the army on any terms. What you will find are diplomats who scoff at the possibility of Musharraf being able to seal a deal on Kashmir with India. Being Numero Uno at home requires having Enemy No 1 across the border.
Zia’s army, Musharraf’s army, Kakar and Karamat’s army — it may seem difficult to reconcile the differences. But while they were very different men, the strategic orientation of the army has more or less been the same. Some addressed the strategic imperatives from a religious angle, others from a more secular angle, but it has always been the army’s angle.
Can anything be done?
The outside world can’t fix us. In fact, even now the US is probably a better friend of the Pakistan Army than of the Pakistani people. Soldiers and intelligence networks are more useful than an under-educated and impoverished population. Double-gamers and duplicitous allies at least have something to offer; what can the wretched Pakistani people offer myopic Americans?
Can we fix ourselves? Take a look around. Does anyone think Asif Zardari has what it takes? Nawaz Sharif may have the chutzpah, but does he have the nous? Beyond them, what is there but a fetid pool of opportunists and political mercenaries?
So maybe that’s the answer after all. They knew. They knew he was there. And they knew they could get away with it.
The writer is a member of staff.