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In-camera session: The ultimate betrayal

Published May 17, 2011 03:12pm

Activists of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf hold placards over the Osama bin laden crisis during the joint sitting of parliament in Islamabad on May 13, 2011, where Pakistan's intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha and army chief of staff Ashfaq Kayani briefed lawmakers on the bin Laden operation. - AFP Photo

After all the hullabaloo about the civilian supremacy over the military, the parliament's joint session has ended up achieving the opposite of what leaked reports on the military and intelligence bosses being on the defensive might suggest.

The unanimous resolution passed at the end of the session has reaffirmed and validated Pakistan's flawed security discourse –espoused and led by the military and its supporters among politicians and media pundits: That the United States of America – in cahoots with India – is out to destroy Pakistan. What else can explain the worrying absence from the resolution of both Osama bin Laden and the terrorist organisations on the prowl across the country with their poisonous ideologies and lethal strategies to implement them?

Bin Laden was no ordinary criminal on the run from the law. He had been ordering, planning and sponsoring acts of terrorism across the globe using our territory. And in a gross violation of our territorial sanctity, the world's most wanted terrorist, whose organisation al Qaeda more than once declared war on Pakistan, has been living just outside the country's top military academy reportedly for years.

Still, the parliamentarians forgot to refer to the fact that by virtue of his visa-less stay in Abbottabad, he has been undermining Pakistan's sovereignty and subverting the sacredness of our borders as much as the American helicopters did when they invaded Pakistan to capture and kill him.

Whether this omission is deliberate or accidental, it confirms the most dominant view in our security and intelligence discourse that the roots of Pakistan's problems lie outside of the country and not inside. Besides the obvious demerits of this flawed approach which has exposed Pakistan to hostile neighbors on both its eastern and western borders, it allows the military, the government, the parliament and the intelligentsia the luxury to bury their heads in the sand as the chances of an implosion of the state and the society become increasingly imminent around them.

The problem with such smugness is that it wants an immediate end to drone attacks and is willing to go to any lengths to have them stopped but is willing to look the other way as terrorists - operating illegally out of our territory - continue to commit horrible crimes against humanity, within Pakistan as well as outside it.

The parliamentarians have not just underestimated the global anxiety over terrorism emanating from our own backyard, they have also undermined the sacrifices of 35,000 civilians and about 5000 security personnel who lost their lives to terrorist attacks. Or did they actually die fighting against some aliens descended on us through the American drones? By choosing to ignore these issues, the parliament looks like having answered this question in the affirmative.

Visibly hurt and overtly angry over the violation of Pakistan's territorial sovereignty by the Americans, the parliamentarians never asked the military and intelligence chiefs as to why the Taliban were captured in Swat in 2009 even though the security forces have been conducting operations against them in the same region since 2007?

Wasn't the terrorist victory right under the nose of the state authorities as big a security and intelligence failure as the violation of Pakistan’s airspace by the American helicopters? Why haven't we ever demanded and ordered an inquiry commission to investigate that failure in Swat? Or perhaps the parliamentarians believe the conspiracy theories that thousands of suicide bombers brainwashed and trained in Swat and the tribal areas are just the phantoms of imaginations of a security consultant working out of some Washington-funded think tank!

The resolution also has misplaced focus on Pakistan's image, pride, honour and self-esteem even when it ignores some harsh truths that we as a nation continue to sidestep. Despite all the self-glorification and bravado of our soldiers and intelligentsia, Pakistan is a third world country that - despite possessing nuclear weapons - is heavily dependent on other countries for keeping its military machine up and running. The Americans know this and can exploit this for their benefit, only cutting our bloated self-image to size. After all, the world's most powerful country and its military personnel have the technology as well as the political and military muscle to successfully breach our sovereignty and security.

What is really hurting our image and national honour is the question as to how a country with more than half a million standing troops has allowed rag-tag militant groups to operate from its territory for decades to the destruction of the domestic structures of state and society and to the horrors of the rest of the world. When we meet foreigners they do not berate us for possessing radars that cannot detect tech-heavy American helicopters. They avoid use because they see us as the sponsors and supporters of international terrorism.

By threatening to shut itself from the rest of the world - invoking dire phrases to stop drone attacks and ward off any Abbottabad-like operation in the future - Pakistan cannot earn the respect that its leaders so badly crave. There is certainly a lesson for us in how and why the United States is so hated across the globe: No one likes bullies.

But if the joint session and its resolution were aimed at a domestic audience anguished and livid over the exposure of chinks in our expensive armor, they have added more myth to Pakistan's unrelenting official narrative of our military being second to none in the world.

The parliamentarians have failed to realise that it was about time that we induced some sanity to our public discourse over our military prowess. On the other hand, most of them wanted to know if Pakistan had the capacity to shoot down American drones and never wanted no for an answer. Yes, we can bring down the drones but what next? Can we then afford to risk a war with the American military stationed next door in Afghanistan? If nothing else, this will materialise the nightmare scenario of having the world's two most powerful armies as hostile enemies squeezing us from both our eastern and western borders. Whoever thinks that shooting down a drone will elicit no response from the Americans and India will also not take advantage of Pakistan’s increased engagements on its western border must be either naïve or brave to the extent of being suicidal.

The parliament has a duty to let the people of Pakistan know about all these consequences and not just leave the question half-answered or else the military will be able to keep the country under the misleading spell of its mythical power and fanciful invincibility.

This leads to the most important question of our national polity: How to rectify the civilian-military imbalance in favor of the democratically elected civilian governments where it comes to the formulation of national policies and their implementation in all fields of national life including domestic and external security and foreign and regional relations? If the parliament - or at least some parties in its two houses - believes that the findings of the commission it has proposed to set up to investigate the Abbottabad incident will help them wrest away the control of the national policies from the military, they are gravely mistaken. In fact, the parliamentarians themselves have precluded that possibility by apparently limiting the scope of the investigation.

Going by the tone, tenor and the text of the joint resolution, it is more than obvious that the investigators will be strictly focused on the American invasion into Pakistan, not on how bin Laden could live in Abbottabad undetected and whether there is any truth in unceasing reports about Pakistan army and intelligence agencies secretly collaborating with terrorists. Expect the commission to recommend more sophisticated gadgets and weapons for the military and more resources for the intelligence agencies to be able to avoid the possibility of any more violations of Pakistan's territory and to ensure the security and safety of sensitive strategic sites and the nuclear arsenal. If anything, this will increase the power of the military chiefs and the heads of intelligence agencies rather than diminish it.

Badar Alam is editor of the political monthly magazine, Herald.