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Mother of all embarrassments
Friday, May 06, 2011
From Print Edition
For a country with more than its share of misfortunes and sheer bad luck, we could have done without this warrior of the faith, Osama bin Laden, spreading his beneficence amongst us. He was a headache for us while he lived, but nothing short of a catastrophe in his death. For his killing, and the manner of it, have exposed Pakistan and its security establishment like nothing else.
To say that our security czars and assorted knights have been caught with their pants down would be the understatement of the century. This is the mother of all embarrassments, showing us either to be incompetent – it can’t get any worse than this, Osama living in a sprawling compound a short walk from that nursery school of the army, the Pakistan Military Academy and, if we are to believe this, our ever-vigilant eyes and ears knowing nothing about it – or, heaven forbid, complicit.
I would settle for incompetence anytime because the implications of complicity are too dreadful to contemplate.
And the Americans came, swooping over the mountains, right into the heart of the compound, and after carrying out their operation flew away into the moonless night without our formidable guardians of national security knowing anything about it. This is to pour salt over our wounds. The obvious question which even a child would raise is that if a cantonment crawling with the army such as Abbottabad is not safe from stealthy assault what does it say about the safety of our famous nuke capability, the mainstay of national pride and defence?
Barely 24 hours before the Osama assault General Kayani, at a ceremony in General Headquarters in remembrance of our soldiers killed in our Taliban wars, was describing the army as the defender of the country’s ideological and geographical frontiers. For the time being, I think, we should concentrate on ideology and leave geography well alone, the Abbottabad assault having made a mockery of our geographical frontiers.
Every other country in the world is happy if its armed forces can defend geography. We are the only country in the world which waxes lyrical about ideological frontiers. To us alone belongs the distinction of calling ourselves a fortress of Islam.
In the wake of the Raymond Davis affair a certain sternness had crept into our tone with the Americans, as we told them that they would have to curtail their footprint in Pakistan. I wonder what we tell them now. It is not difficult to imagine the smile on American lips when we now speak of the absolute necessity of minimising CIA activities.
With whom the gods would jest, they first make ridiculous. The hardest thing to bear in this saga is not wounded pride or breached sovereignty but our exposure to ridicule. Osama made us suffer in life and has made us look ridiculous after his death. Around the tallest mountains there is the echo of too much laughter at our expense.
Consider also the Foreign Office statement of May 3, “As far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with CIA...since 2009....It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior technological assets, CIA exploited intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden.” This is hilarious. If we were aware of the compound and had suspicions about its occupants what ‘superior technological assets’ were required to go in and find out?
But what takes the cake is the stern warning attached: “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.” We can imagine the CIA trembling in its shoes. My son burst out laughing when he read this. If the Americans get a clue to the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri or Mullah Omar will they ask our permission before sending their SEAL teams in?
The CIA chief, Leon Panetta, has rubbed the point in: “It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission. They might alert the targets.” That’s about the level of trust we seem to inspire.
Anyway, trust Prime Minister Gilani to put it best, that the failure to find Osama for so long was not just Pakistan’s failure but that of intelligence agencies around the world. This is really cool, absolving ourselves of all responsibility even when Osama is discovered within walking distance of PMA Kakul.
We have some funny notions of sovereignty and national honour. The CIA spreading itself wide in Pakistan is a breach of national sovereignty, and rightly so. And American boots on the ground, as in Abbottabad, are totally unacceptable. But when it comes to Al Qaeda using Pakistan as a base, Sirajuddin Haqqani and the rest of the Taliban holed up in North Waziristan and Taliban elements in Quetta, we somehow can’t work up the same outrage.
We already had a tough job on our hands convincing the world of our bona fides. After the Osama operation it gets that much tougher.
In an ideal world this should be a wakeup call for Pakistan, an opportunity for some honest introspection and a hard look at some of the bizarre notions underpinning our theories of national security. Must we spend so much on defence? Is the world engaged in a conspiracy to undermine our foundations? Aren’t our nuclear weapons enough to give us a sense of security? Hasn’t the time come to curb some of our zest for nurturing and sustaining jihadi militias? And isn’t it time we stopped fretting so much about Afghanistan and made internal order and prosperity the principal focus of our endeavours?
But we do not live in an ideal world and our capacity for self-deception should not be under-estimated. Shaken as we may be by the Osama operation, we can safely assume that we won’t take this as a wakeup call. As the Foreign Office statement vividly shows, we’ll hunt for lame excuses and hide behind false explanations, convinced of our ability to fool the world when the only thing fooled will be ourselves.
So we will keep talking about strategic assets and good and bad Taliban, and about protecting our interests in Afghanistan, and we’ll keep subscribing to theories of Indian hostility and encirclement, because these are the foundations on which stands the peculiar national security state we have constructed, forever threatened and insecure.
If the separation of East Pakistan was not a wakeup call, if Musharraf’s adventure in Kargil wasn’t that either, it is too much to expect that Pakistan’s comprehensive exposure in this saga, the Islamic Republic without its clothes, will lead to any radical departures in national outlook.
Our ruling establishment is too set in its ways and, sadly, the roots of national stupidity run too deep.
And perish the thought of anyone taking responsibility and throwing in his papers. That’s just not the Pakistani way.
But there should be no escaping the fact that from now on we will have to be more careful. All the signs suggest that this may prove to be a milestone of sorts, a dangerous turning point, in that our friends, let alone our enemies, become more sceptical of our pronouncements and increasingly less willing to put up with our hidden and double games.
We will be asked some tough questions and the time for bluster or a show of righteous indignation may have passed.
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