OUR military and intelligence agencies stand indicted for being complicit with terror groups and our best defence seems to be to plead incompetence.
Osama’s refuge in the shadows of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul and his killing without the knowledge or permission of Pakistani authorities have not only raised piercing questions about the country’s willingness to function as a responsible state but also cast fundamental doubts on the ability of our national security apparatus to protect Pakistan against foreign intervention.
An ISPR release after Thursday’s corps commanders’ conference that broke the security establishment’s silence on the Osama operation is mostly gibberish.
While admitting “shortcomings in developing intelligence” on Osama’s presence in Pakistan, it goes on to blow the ISI’s trumpet for extraordinary achievement all around. The commanders feel betrayed by the CIA for not telling the ISI where Bin Laden was hiding.
The release doesn’t say why the military failed to detect foreign choppers and troops in our territory for an hour and 40 minutes. The air chief has now chimed in: the radars were working perfectly but enough of them are just not located on the western border. Did no one ever think we needed radar and air cover in the drone-infested part of Pakistan that has been an active war zone for a decade?
Can the-dog-ate-my-homework routine pacify a nation worried sick about having penetrable defences, no response readiness and being on the way to be branded a rogue? An inquiry into the facts of the Osama operation to determine the causes of the intelligence failure will not be sufficient.
We need to rationally approach the concept of sovereignty together with state responsibility to understand why the world views us suspiciously. We need a thorough re-examination of our existing national security doctrine to determine whether it is promoting or jeopardising our security. We need disclosure on the scope of our military relationship with the US and if the latter has been afforded air bases and the permission to house troops or intelligence operatives within Pakistan.
We need to root the power and authority of the ISI within statutory law, provide for internal checks and performance audit, and subject the agency to effective parliamentary scrutiny. And we need to do away with our policy of deliberate hypocrisy reflected in our refusal to clearly articulate our security and foreign policy goals, especially vis-à-vis the future of Afghanistan.
This is keeping the jihadi project alive, confusing and polarising the nation and drawing a wedge between Pakistan and the world. But this won’t happen unless the responsibility for failing to detect Osama’s presence in Pakistan as well as the US military operation is ascribed to those in charge of national security.
It is unlikely that Osama was being hosted by Pakistan as a matter of policy. Shielding Afghan Taliban leaders or India-focused militant leaders, however misconceived, is still understandable as part of a warped strategy to promote our defined strategic interests. Hosting Bin Laden or other Al Qaeda leaders isn’t.
Further, the assumption that our military and the ISI must have known of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad is the product of a narrative that projects our national security establishment as extremely capable, effective and omnipresent. This narrative has been conjured up by the national security establishment itself and mercilessly fed to the nation.
The masses buy into it for lack of an alternative narrative and a misplaced sense of nationalism. The political class and the media buy into it because they remain subjects of the ISI’s intrusive gaze, being followed, wiretapped, photographed, interrogated, cajoled and coerced. But hard facts do not back this narrative. Without distorting history can one honestly applaud our military high command’s performance in any war? Have our military and its intelligence network succeeded in confronting the security threat emanating from within?
If the ISI and the MI are epitomes of excellence, what accounts for their inability to prevent terrorists from blowing up themselves, our soldiers, policemen, intelligence outfits and innocent civilians across Pakistan at will? What can possibly explain the ease with which a handful of terrorists broke into the GHQ, killed senior military officers and held others hostage for hours? Pakistan has lost more civilians and soldiers to terror since 9/11 than all other countries of the world put together.
Does this sacrifice not highlight the failure of our national security strategy?
Some days ago, army chief Gen Kayani declared that national honour shall not be traded for prosperity. A week before that he had boasted that we had broken the backbone of the militants. Air chief Rao Qamar Suleman had declared that the air force is capable of shooting down US Predator aircraft if asked to. The US Navy Seals then carried out a complex military operation in the heart of Pakistan with choppers and boots on the ground and all, and the air force and army slept right through it?
In a functional democracy, these gentlemen would be sacked after such a debacle. Unfortunately, national security related decisions in Pakistan fall within the exclusive domain of the military, which jealously guards its turf. But responsibility must accompany such power. And the responsibility for erosion of our international credibility and increased threat to security personnel and citizens from terror networks nestled within Pakistan rests squarely on the military’s shoulder.
Be it a rise in suicide bombing and terror incidents within Pakistan, an increase in US drone strikes in our territory, the Mumbai attacks or the Osama operation, the threat to Pakistan’s interests for being perceived as a pad for terrorist activity and to its citizens as targets of terror has proliferated under Gen Kayani’s watch. Is it not time for Gen Kayani to call it quits and take along with him the DG ISI and the air chief? Shouldn’t these heads roll to account for failing to do their jobs?
With them in the driving seat it might neither be possible to hold a transparent inquiry into the security breaches that led to the Osama operation and its execution without Pakistan’s knowledge nor engage in a rethink of our perverse national security mindset. Can we shed some baggage and create room for untainted faces and ideas?
The concept of sovereignty assumes control over the territory a state claims. We cannot continue to shirk responsibility for the men, material and money transiting in and out of Pakistan and simultaneously wail at the disregard for our sovereignty. It is time to publicly articulate our legitimate security interests linked to the future of Afghanistan and develop a regional consensus around it, instead of vying for the whole hog.
It is time to completely liquidate the jihadi project and cleanse our state machinery of those who believe in its virtue. And it is time to shun the delusions of grandeur and conspiracy that prevent us from realising our potential as a responsible and industrious nation.
The writer is a lawyer.