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November 19, 2020

After May 2, 2011 From ‘good news’ to ‘breach of sovereignty’

National

November 19, 2020

ISLAMABAD: What former US President Barack Obama has written in his new book about the reaction of the then President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari and then army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to the May 2, 2011 US raid into Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden has not come as a surprise to many in this country.

For Obama, breaking the news of the Osama raid to Pakistan was easier than he thought it would be. As he writes in his book, ‘A Promised Land’: “When I reached him (Asif Ali Zardari), however, he expressed congratulations and support. ‘Whatever the fallout,' he said, ‘it’s very good news'."

On the very day when the US conducted the raid, violating the country’s sovereignty, an article by Zardari titled ‘Pakistan did its part’ was published in The Washington Post stating: “My government endorses the words of President Obama and appreciates the credit he gave us Sunday night for the successful (Abbottabad) operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

In the opening para of his article, which did not raise let alone protest against the issue of violation of the country’s sovereignty, Zardari had written: “ Pakistan, perhaps the world’s greatest victim of terrorism, joins the other targets of al-Qaeda — the people of the United States, Britain, Spain, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria — in our satisfaction that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced, and his victims given justice. He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone.”

Soon after the Abbottabad operation, when President Obama confirmed the death of bin Laden, the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, initially termed it a “victory of the anti-terror alliance”. However, the next day (May 3, 2011), a statement was issued by the Foreign Office of Pakistan showing resentment over the attack, that was very different from the statement of satisfaction issued earlier by the Pakistani premier and what the president had written in The Washington Post.

Obama in his book also talks about the reaction of the then army chief General Kayani. He writes, “Mullen had put a call in to Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and while the conversation had been polite, Kayani had requested that we come clean on the raid and its target as quickly as possible in order to help his people manage the reaction of the Pakistani public.”

Contrary to the Pakistan Army’s public stance on the Abbottabad debacle at that time, the official monthly publication of the military, Hilal, which is published by the ISPR, had termed the May 2 attack a “big day” for the US and Pakistan in particular and for the rest of the world in general.

In its post-May 2, 2011 issue, the English edition of Hilal in its editorial note had not condemned the blatant breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US Navy Seals. Incidentally, Hilal’s patron-in-chief during that period was Maj General Athar Abbas, the then DG ISPR, and Lt Colonel Tahir Mehmood was its editor. The post-operation issue of the magazine had recalled a number of terrorist attacks on US interests and the sacrifices made by Pakistan in America’s war on terror to suggest that the positions of both Washington and Islamabad be re-evaluated in order to win the war.

While for Hilal, May 2 was a ‘big day’ for Pakistan, the press release issued by the ISPR following the May 5, 2011 corps commanders meeting, which was convened to discuss the bin Laden killing issue, had a very different tone. The army chief was quoted as having said in the meeting: “The COAS made it very clear that any similar action, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States.”

Ironically, the opening sentence of Hilal’s editorial – ‘Reflection; Not Mere Reaction’— was: “Dear readers, May 2, 2011 was a big day for the US and Pakistan in particular, and for the rest of the world in general.”