Saturday, May 28, 2011

Daily Times Editorial May 27, 2011

Better late than never

The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) met with the prime minister chairing and took a number of decisions regarding the struggle against terrorism, which has assumed alarming proportions after the attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi. The DCC decided that coordinated efforts would be made to prevent/pre-empt terrorist acts. The security agencies would be fully authorised to use all means to eliminate/crush terrorists with full might and vigour. An appeal was made to all citizens to cooperate fully in this struggle. The DCC reiterated that Pakistan’s strategic assets were safe and expressed full confidence in the ability and capacity of the armed forces, intelligence and other security forces in meeting the challenge. The DCC also discussed regional security, which obviously means Afghanistan and the situation obtaining on our western border came into focus. There is no denying the nexus between events in Afghanistan and the security situation inside Pakistan.
As though to underline the threat, a suicide bomber drove a truck into a CIA police station in Peshawar on the very day the DCC met. The powerful explosion demolished the building, killing eight security personnel and wounding 48. It may be recalled that this is the second terrorist attack in Peshawar in recent days. The other day some US consulate personnel were targeted.
Meanwhile words of encouragement came from British Prime Minister David Cameron after his meeting with US President Barack Obama, currently on a visit to Britain. Cameron had promised Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in a telephonic conversation recently that he would convey Pakistan’s views and concerns to President Obama. Cameron said Pakistan’s enemies were also the UK’s enemies, and that meant taking account of how much Pakistan had suffered from terrorism as well as its successes against the extremists. In the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden, it was a reminder that must sound sweet to Islamabad’s ears. Cameron emphasised the need to work even more closely with Pakistan now rather than walk away on the basis of suspicions about the Pakistani military establishment and its intelligence arms’ ties with terrorists. Obama struck an overly optimistic note by claiming al Qaeda’s back had been broken by the killing of Osama bin Laden. This statement reminds one of our COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s statement recently that Pakistan had broken the back of the terrorists. If proof was needed that the terrorists still retain dangerous capability even with a ‘broken back’, the PNS Mehran attack and the demolition of the police station in Peshawar should lay any complacency to rest.
In this space we have been arguing consistently for Pakistan’s leaders, civilian and military, to wake up to the internal threat that looms over the country’s future. Even if it has taken the series of events after the Abbottabad raid, including the two spectacular incidents mentioned above, to focus the national leadership’s mind on the task, it can only be welcomed with the adage: better late than never. Now that the DCC has asked for citizens’ cooperation and underlined the need for a national consensus in the struggle against terrorism, the main points of the approach/strategy for the anti-terrorist campaign must be clearly understood. The national consensus that exists against the heinous acts of the terrorists can and will be strengthened if the badly shaken public confidence because of recent events is restored through effective action against the terrorists.
For that, it is essential that the eroded intelligence capacity since the breach with hitherto nurtured extremist forces be strengthened through hard work and clever design. Prevention and pre-emption is only possible if real time intelligence becomes available before any event. Equally important, as the PNS Mehran and other incidents have indicated, there is a need to purge the security forces’ ranks of all sympathisers of the terrorists who act as the eyes and ears of the conspirators and pass on critical information. Last but not least, if citizens’ full cooperation is desired, there must be an intelligent balance struck between the determined effort against the terrorists and convenience of the general public. To take one example, the rash of barriers and check posts that have sprung up all over the country, and which only serve the purpose of irritating citizens going about their daily lives while at the same time offering tempting targets in the shape of the long lines of cars to the terrorists, should be revisited in favour of a more intelligent procedure.

Daily Times editorial May 29, 2011

Hillary Clinton’s visit

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally made her visit that had been in doubt since the Abbottabad raid with US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in tow. Obviously, since the object of the visit was to mend ties, it would have been counter-productive for either the secretary or the military chief to express any differences clearly and strongly. The tensions between the two sides could not be hidden however, as evidenced by the lack of a joint statement and the press conference held by the two high profile visitors at the US Embassy. Ms Clinton did her best to balance continuing American demands from Pakistan to act more decisively against al Qaeda and the safe havens of the Afghan Taliban on our soil with appreciation for Pakistan’s sacrifices, concerns and interests. The balm, though applied, could not hide the gaping open wounds. Ms Clinton gave the Pakistani higher authorities a clean chit as far as knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s presence for a number of years in Abbottabad was concerned, stressing the Pakistani assessment that Osama must have had a support network facilitating him, which is being probed by Pakistan. But there was no hint of an apology for the unilateral raid itself. That implies that although sounds are emanating from both sides that all future actions against high profile targets would be conducted jointly, the sub-text remains that if Pakistan is found wanting in this regard, the US reserves the right to act itself. Ms Clinton did stress both sides’ tremendous commitment to the fight against terrorism, in which endeavour much has been achieved but much more needs to be done despite the elimination of Osama, but this generalised homily did nothing to clear the fog of mistrust that bedevils both countries’ relations at present. She referred to the growing anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories in Pakistan by stressing that none of this could solve Pakistan’s problems. While Washington would continue to support the civilian government and democracy, the US could not and indeed should not try to resolve Pakistan’s problems.
On the other hand, Information Minister Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan briefed the media on the cabinet’s deliberations by stating unequivocally that Pakistan’s sovereignty is the top priority of the government and the Americans have been told in no uncertain terms that unilateral actions by the US and the continuing drone attacks were likely to fall foul of parliament’s resolution to review the terms of engagement if such policies continue to be pursued. Tough talking notwithstanding, it is not clear how much of this is public posturing and how much actual intent. After all, national wounded pride aside, Pakistan still looks to the US for help and succour, and the reverse is also true. A troubled marriage may have been saved from a precipitous divorce, but much more ‘marriage counselling’ may be required to salvage at least the minimum cooperation on the endgame in Afghanistan as well as the campaign against terrorists of all hues and varieties. The US and Pakistan resemble nothing more than Siamese twins joined at the hip, unable to get along sweetly, but forced by circumstance to make the best of it.
Proof that not all is lost on the matrimonial front is provided by the access granted US personnel to Osama’s Abbottabad compound and the promise of access to bin Laden’s widows. Islamabad’s discomfiture, however, will not be helped by US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s simultaneous visit to India or Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram’s skewering Pakistan as a terrorist safe haven and global epicentre where the state had become “fragile”. While Washington makes moves to salvage the bruised relationship with Islamabad, simultaneously it is signalling a deeper cooperation with New Delhi on terrorism-related tasks. Unless Washington cannot see the wood for the trees, it should be aware that this dual gambit is bound to raise more hackles on this side of the border.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Daily Times editorial May 21, 2011

Obama’s speech

US President Barack Obama’s much anticipated speech on the Middle East delineated his administration’s view of the Arab uprisings and the vexed, long standing question of Israeli-Palestinian peace. On the Arab uprisings, Obama threw his weight behind the revolts roiling the Arab world, but failed to satisfy critics about the administration’s uneven response that appears to discriminate between long standing enemies or thorns in the west’s side and allies useful to the US-led west’s agenda in the Middle East. To illustrate, all one has to do is trace the trajectory of Washington’s response to the uprisings in Libya (which has deteriorated, since the NATO intervention on the rebels’ side, into a protracted civil war) and Syria, where the regimes are daily and roundly condemned, with the ‘softly, softly’ approach to western allied regimes in Yemen and Bahrain to understand what the US is aiming for. In a changing world, and post-Osama bin Laden, the US and the west have realised that past reliance on monarchs and dictators to safeguard western interests in the region, both strategic and economic (let us not forget oil and gas), may no longer be the best option. The winds of change sweeping the Arab world are sought to be nudged in the direction of pro-western democracies, which may prove a better political shell for ensuring the smooth supply of oil and gas and guarantee Arab markets for the products of the west (especially weapons).
On the Israeli-Palestinian interminable conflict, Obama suggest a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders with swaps of territory to satisfy both sides’ security and other concerns. Israel insists on a demilitarised Palestinian state, if and when it comes into existence, an outcome still in considerable doubt. Israel rejects the 1967 borders as ‘indefensible’ (but forgets to mention what happened in the 1967 war). It also continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank, to the irritation of the Palestinians. Sadly, the hope that Obama would indeed be more even-handed in this intractable conflict has proved mere wishful thinking. The US's vetoing a UN resolution criticising expanding settlements activity by Israel was a better reflection of Washington’s actual stance rather than the rhetoric Obama espoused in his Cairo speech. Judging by the fate of Cairo 1, it could be argued that ‘Cairo 2’ (the present speech) will go the way of the first, a forgotten remnant of a dashed hope. Nothing reflects the impasse to which the Israeli tail has reduced the US dog than the recent resignation of George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East. Mr Mitchell brought to the fraught Middle East table impeccable credentials as a respected negotiator. His departure spells the end of even the weak-kneed Obama attempts to restrain Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from creating ‘new facts on the ground’ in the shape of settlements expansion in the West Bank. Israel has made no secret of its desire to retain such settlements even if a two-state solution, by some miracle, becomes fact, and to maintain a military presence on the Jordan River, the boundary between Israel and Jordan, which offers Israel a good jumping off point for its aggressive intent against all neighbouring Arab states.
With Obama, it has become imperative to go behind his eloquent rhetoric and plumb the depths of his real policies, especially in the Middle East, where the rhetoric can be seen through easiest. The US and the west may desire to reshape the emerging new Arab world according to its desires, but history delivers the caution in such matters that the dynamic of change can spring unexpected surprises for those wishing to control the destinies of the Arab masses through a new ideological Trojan horse called democracy and a free market.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Daily Times Editorial May 17, 2011

Critical moment

US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and known to be sympathetically inclined towards Pakistan, has delivered a chilling message on his arrival in Islamabad from Kabul. He says US-Pakistan relations are at a “critical moment” in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s killing and that there are growing calls in the US to cut aid to Pakistan. The Senator acknowledges the sacrifices of Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism, but in the very next breath asserts that there are deep reservations over Pakistan’s consistent commitment against all forms of terrorism and some disturbing evidence on Pakistani knowledge of and links with elements inimical to US interests. He revealed that on a visit to the Afghan eastern province of Khost, he was briefed on Taliban safe havens just across the border with Pakistan in North Waziristan. While lauding past Pakistani cooperation, including allowing the CIA to operate on Pakistani soil, which had led the US to Osama, some actions such as the purported links to the Afghan Taliban troubled the Senator.
Senator Kerry’s fence mending visit comes at a time when reports in the US media (e.g. The Washington Post) claim the US administration is divided on what approach to adopt now towards Pakistan. Some officials, especially in the White House, are reported to have advocated a tough response, especially if access is denied to the materials captured by Pakistan from Osama’s hideout after the US commandos had departed. This section in the US administration is convinced that it cannot just be business as usual with Pakistan. Islamabad faces a big choice in their view, a characterisation reminiscent of former President Bush’s ultimatum of “Either you are with us or against us” immediately following 9/11. The administration’s hardliners assert that people who were prepared to listen to Pakistan’s story for a long time are no longer receptive. This means that our reminders of our sacrifices in the struggle against terrorism fail to cut much ice in the changed circumstances. It must also be pointed out though that even the hardliners have no good alternatives to trying to repair the relationship with Pakistan and seek its cooperation against terrorism and to assist its withdrawal plans in Afghanistan.
And what of our response? While Senator Kerry and our ambassador to Washington Hussain Haqqani may be bending their backs in Islamabad to salvage something positive from the ruins of the relationship, cooperation from the Pakistani military and intelligence community is already withering, with reports in our media that the ISI has cut off relations with the CIA and US commandos on Pakistani soil on a training mission are being asked to pack up and return home. Seeking other options, Islamabad is looking to China, where the prime minister is on a visit, to bolster its international standing. China is not only Pakistan’s true and tested friend in good times and bad, it is Pakistan’s main arms and civilian nuclear technology supplier. In return, Pakistan has always stood by Beijing’s claims on Taiwan as part of China and seems willing to assist China in tackling its extremist problem in Xinjiang province, a legacy of the spread of terrorism in the region during the protracted Afghan wars of the last four decades. China may not yet be at the level of technological development and sophistication of the west, but its reliability must weigh heavily in the balance, especially in the present uncertain scenario.
A survey of that scenario reveals disturbing signs that the US, having lost patience with Pakistan after the Osama episode, has decided to forego its ‘gently, gently’ approach towards Pakistan and decided to put the squeeze on Islamabad. That places the Kerry visit centre-stage. If even a friend of Pakistan such as Senator Kerry returns from his visit with a changed mind, severe consequences, starting with aid, trade and investment curtailment could be followed by more unilateral actions that would ruin whatever remains of the tattered relationship. Cutting off US/NATO logistics for the Afghan theatre would be the last act in a downward spiralling disaster drop scene.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daily Times Editorial May 15, 2011

ISI’s admission

In a historic, unprecedented step, the DG ISI Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha presented himself before an in-camera joint session of parliament. Admitting the failure to detect the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the incursion by US SEALs to kill Osama and his companions, the DG apologised to the nation, offering to resign. He also surrendered himself for accountability before any forum set up for the purpose of reviewing the whole episode. He did, however, pin some of the blame for the lapse on the provincial government, police and related agencies. He went on to say that parliament should now review the relationship with the US and frame a national policy on the issue.
No doubt it is a welcome development that the military and its intelligence arm have allowed themselves to be held accountable for a spectacular failure. The top officers conducting the briefing to parliament were at pains to explain that despite Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror and in intelligence sharing, which led to breaking the back of al Qaeda and the eventual discovery of Osama bin laden by the US, the incursion used superior stealth technology on the helicopters to avoid radar detection. The fact, however, remains that this failure has helped puncture the culture of impunity under which the military and intelligence services have never felt the need to account for any of their actions in our past history. This only underlines the seriousness of the lapse/failure, which has given rise to widespread anxiety about our defence forces’ ability to defend the country and its strategic assets. The assurances of the briefing officers in this regard were accompanied by the usual rhetoric about the need to refrain from criticising the military or the intelligence agencies since this would harm the country. The media was singled out for a bit of stick for being “irresponsible”. What was left unsaid was that despite the media’s mistakes, it was the vacuum of information or any authoritative statement on the incident by either the civilian or military authorities that left room for speculative media coverage.
At the end of the marathon briefing, parliament passed a 12-point unanimous resolution calling upon the government to appoint an independent commission on the Abbottabad fiasco, fix responsibility and recommend necessary measures, including blocking of NATO supplies to ensure such incidents never happen again and the unilateral drone attacks are stopped. One of the startling disclosures in the briefing was that Shamsi air base in Balochistan was acquired by the UAE and then handed over to the US to conduct drone surveillance, while armed drones fly from Afghanistan. The question arises: who authorised this surrender of sovereignty, revealed at the exact moment when the cries about our violated sovereignty have been ringing out loud and clear? Surveillance is the first step towards conducting drone strikes. This means that we have been complicit in at least the drone programme’s intelligence gathering activities, after which drone attacks are conducted. How then are we protesting the drone attacks when our role is not exactly innocent? Further, the consensus resolution of parliament notwithstanding, has any one of our honourable elected members bothered to inform what would happen if we cut off the logistics of the Americans and NATO for Afghanistan? What impact would it have for US aid, already under threat from the run of opinion in the US Congress? How would a cash-strapped Pakistan compensate for that lost aid? If it could not, what would be the effect on the country, the people and even the armed forces? It is all very well to be carried away by emotion and assert national pride, but our elected representatives are expected to examine all the implications of any suggestion they put forward on strategic policies.
We must now await the government’s announcement of a commission and can only comment once its composition, terms of reference and mandate are known. The issue of being caught unawares by the US incursion, even if superior technology is conceded as a critical factor, goes to the heart of the country’s defence preparedness. Perhaps this will prove a historic turning point in the shift of defence and security policies away from exclusive armed forces’ control to both input and oversight by parliament, where this function rightly belongs.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Daily Times editorial May 13, 2011

Inquiry controversy

A controversy has broken out about the kind of inquiry that should be conducted into the Abbottabad incident. Nawaz Sharif has come out with the demand that the announced inquiry by the Adjutant General would not enjoy public confidence since the military would be a judge in its own cause. Instead, he argues, a judicial commission should be set up comprising the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Chief Justices of the four High Courts to thoroughly probe all aspects of the affair. The military’s ‘internal’ inquiry, which has been supported by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the PPP-led government, has been rejected by Nawaz Sharif on the grounds that the fate of similar inquiries in the past did not lend it credence or inspire confidence. He in particular quoted the Ojhri Camp inquiry (and some have referred to the Kargil inquiry) to make the case that such exercises in the past never saw the light of day, let alone enlighten the public. His party’s leader Khwaja Saad Rafiq made the same demand from the floor of the National Assembly. Reportedly, the PML-N’s stance was only adopted after a heated debate inside the party’s ranks, in which some hawks were of the view that such a demand might annoy the powerful military and could end up nudging them closer to the ruling coalition. But the party chief went with the contrary view, arguing that it was time to rise above partisan party politics and institute a system of checks and balances once and for all, with implications for the civil-military relationship. In the meantime the Senate echoed with demands not to allow the US access to Osama bin Laden’s widows and that they should instead be repatriated to their countries of origin.
Indirectly, the PML-N call could strengthen the prime minister’s plea for the unity of all political forces to counter the threats to the country by bringing all political stakeholders on the same page as far as accountability of the military and intelligence services for the manifest failure is concerned. However, given the cautious (some would say weak-kneed) stance of the government towards any and every dissenting voice (whether the mullahs on the blasphemy law or the military where defence and security policy are concerned), it is unlikely the government will stick its neck out to challenge the military, accustomed as the latter is to immunity from public scrutiny. What might be in the back of the government leaders’ mind is the ‘Junejo syndrome’, a psychological paralysis based on the fate of general Ziaul Haq’s handpicked prime minister and the fate of Nawaz Sharif after announcing an inquiry into the Kargil fiasco. That, and the memory of how the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report into the East Pakistan defeat was buried from public view for decades, leaves even the advocates of a judicial inquiry indulging in wishful thinking more than recognising the ground realities.
The straitened Pakistan-US relationship needs a few band-aids. One such in the offing is Senator Kerry’s (much anticipated) visit to Pakistan to try and mend ties between the two countries. The redoubtable senator faces an uphill task in the present circumstances, especially since Pakistan, stung by its obvious humiliation, has called in the US ambassador to the foreign office to be delivered a formal protest for the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the invading SEALs team. Those with a calmer view of the importance of the bilateral relationship, the stakes for both sides, and the mutual interests that converge rather than the differences that divide them at this crucial juncture, can only welcome Senator Kerry’s efforts to apply a healing balm on the wounds opened up by the unilateral US action in Abbottabad.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Daily Times Editorial May 12, 2011

Pakistan-US cooperation

US State department spokesman Mark Toner says the US administration is making progress in obtaining information from Pakistan on Osama bin Laden. Perhaps as part of such ‘progress’, there are indications the US may be permitted to interrogate Osama’s three widows who are in Pakistani custody. Pakistan’s foreign office says no formal request for access to Osama’s family has so far been received, but Interior Minister Rehman Malik has told CNN that such access would be granted. It goes without saying that the statement ascribed to one of the widows that Osama spent the last five years holed up in the house in Abbottabad has given rise to firmer suspicions all round that he must have had a support network to be able to survive in self-imposed ‘prison’. Also, the widows could be a rich source for details about where Osama bin Laden was after he escaped the Tora Bora offensive and how the journey and set-up in Abbottabad came into existence, how it was managed, his contacts with the outside world, etc.
Al Qaeda has issued a threat to all Americans that while their President Obama may be safe behind a wall of security, the American people are not, and should expect retaliation for the killing of Osama. Bin Laden’s family has objected to the manner in which his body was disposed of into the sea, considering it an insult to Islam and the rights of the family to receive and bury the head of the family. These sentiments and the threats from al Qaeda are hardly unexpected. The world at large would have to remain vigilant against any such manifestations.
Meanwhile British tabloid The Sun has published a report that an operation to find Mulla Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, is about to be launched in Quetta, since the ‘Quetta Shura’ of the insurgents is still based in that provincial capital. The report cannot be taken seriously because even if the Quetta Shura is still around, it is very unlikely to be in the place that would give it away. Given Musharraf’s dual policy of attacking al Qaeda and protecting the Afghan Taliban after 9/11, a policy that continues to this day long after Musharraf’s departure, it is highly likely that our ubiquitous intelligence agencies already know where Mulla Omar is, and may even be protecting him. The Quetta operation story therefore appears to be a red herring. Things may have got bad between the US and Pakistan of late, but there is no evidence that the policy of using the Afghan Taliban as proxies (albeit difficult ones to control) for gaining so-called strategic depth in Afghanistan has been abandoned. Therefore, despite the harsher US tone that Pakistan must either deal with elements that are killing US and NATO troops in Afghanistan itself, or face the possibility of more raids like the one in Abbottabad against high profile targets, Mulla Omar is not about to be paraded before the cameras. Pakistan’s threat to retaliate against any such future incursions sounds hollow and unconvincing.
Whichever way the current friction between Washington and Islamabad is eventually ironed out, it is time to reflect seriously on the pros and cons of the jihad enterprise the Pakistani state has been peddling for the last four decades. Arguably, in the light of the happenings in Abbottabad, the policy of duality and ambiguity may have run its course and be poised, if it is persisted with, to offer more pain than gain. Pakistan’s interests would be best served by remaining an ally of the US against terrorism, while revisiting and realigning its stance on the Afghan Taliban to accord with the emerging scenario in Afghanistan, the region, and in the troubled relationship with the sole superpower.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Daily Times editorial May 11, 2011

US response

After Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani’s address in parliament on the furore over the US raid to assassinate Osama bin Laden, numerous American voices have chimed in to give us an indication of the US response to the case the Pakistani authorities have made and their stance on any similar situations arising in future. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney unequivocally asserted that the US would not apologise for the unilateral intrusion into Pakistani airspace and on its soil, despite taking Pakistani complaints ‘seriously’. Carney defended the American raid by arguing that US President Barack Obama was convinced that he had the ‘right and imperative’ to mount the raid, a possible action he had already outlined during his presidential election campaign. Meanwhile, sprinkling salt on Pakistan’s wounds, a US State Department spokesman said Washington maintained the right to strike in Pakistan again if it had actionable intelligence on the presence of any high value target in the country. This punctures even the relatively restrained bluster of our PM when he asserted in his address that the consequences of a repeat of such unilateralism would be serious, without spelling out how Pakistan might respond.
As if all this was not enough, Ashton Carter, Undersecretary of Defence for acquisition, technology and logistics attempted to disabuse those in Pakistan who harbour the notion that US/NATO logistics in Afghanistan are vulnerable to disruption in Pakistan by asserting that the Pentagon has alternatives to these land routes and is not wholly dependent on them. That proposition may well be tested if Imran Khan, who held a caravan/rally to Peshawar the other day to halt that route, and threatens another rally in Karachi to stem the flow at the point of entry into Pakistan, follows through on his intent, which many critics are dubbing an establishment-backed campaign. Senator Kerry, however, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has proved a friend to Pakistan in getting the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act promising aid to Pakistan passed and at many other junctures, was of the view that keeping thousands of US troops in Afghanistan depends on an enormous supply train that requires the daily cooperation of the Pakistan state. He added the reminder that more senior al Qaeda operatives have been caught or killed in Pakistan than in any other country.
It is important to have such a powerful voice as Senator Kerry’s batting for Pakistan at a moment when angry members of Congress are asking for either a cut-off of all aid to Pakistan or at the very least a painstaking review of that aid and how it is utilised. Pakistan expects some $ 3 billion on this account in 2012. CIA chief Leon Panetta’s damaging statement that the Pakistani authorities were either complicit in harbouring Osama or incompetent, has been pounced upon by the naysayers in Congress to press home their argument that Pakistan cannot be trusted. In passing, it should be remembered that the US has given some $ 20 billion to Pakistan since 2002, of which $ 9 billion is on account of reimbursable expenditure on the war on terror.
US Ambassador Cameron Munter has also weighed in with the argument that future Pakistan-US ties hinge on the probe launched by Pakistan into the admitted intelligence failure to detect Osama’s presence in Abbottabad and the failure of our defence forces to detect, let alone respond to, the US raid. Since the military and intelligence services have come in for a rare avalanche of criticism inside Pakistan for these obvious failures, COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has been attempting to reassure his equally troubled officers and rank and file regarding the fiasco. But he has subtly shifted some of the blame onto the shoulders of the civilian government by stating that poor media handling, incomplete information and lack of technical details played their part in producing the public dismay and despondency in the aftermath of the debacle. There is of course no gainsaying the argument that it was the failure of the top civilian leadership to immediately address the Pakistani people and the world to authoritatively state Pakistan’s position that left space for the kind of wild speculations and conspiracy theories in our media. The PM’s belated address to parliament, although agreed amongst the troika of the president, PM and COAS in their meeting on Saturday, may prove too little too late.
The icing on the cake is the report that Musharraf-Bush had secretly agreed in 2001 to allow the US to mount just such an action if Osama or other high profile al Qaeda leaders were discovered hiding in Pakistan, with the latter retaining the right to vociferously denounce it. True or not, the current stance of the US implies that option remains on the table and may extend to Afghan Taliban leaders like Mulla Omar. The US is reiterating its long held view: take out these elements yourself or we will. That difficult but inescapable choice now confronts both the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan.