Abbottabad Commission Report: An apt summary of why we may be a "failed state"
The world's most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, lived undetected in Pakistan for nine years. Now we know how.
Now that we know the details of how we harboured the world’s most wanted man for nearly a decade, before letting a foreign power invade our territory without being detected, let alone countered, the term “failed nation” has a deeper resonance for us.
Osama Bin Laden entered Pakistan in 2002, and after loitering in Peshawar, Swat and Haripur, made a cozy, comfy, illegal home with his wives, children and grandchildren in Abbottabad. Here, he helped plot al Qaeda initiatives through electronic communication. Protected from arrest and tortured by the laughable incompetence of Pakistani law enforcement agencies, he encouraged his grandchildren to compete over “who could tend the best vegetable patch” and wore a cowboy hat to avoid detection by US satellites.
When he was stopped alongside a companion for speeding in Abbottabad, the policeman in-charge was not quick-witted enough to spot him. Accident? Perhaps. But I prefer to characterise this accident as yet another testimony to the simple and sorry fact that our police and civilian intelligence is little more than utterly, absolutely useless.
In fact, former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Ahmed Shuja Pasha confirmed this when he said:
“(In Pakistan’s defence ministry) the thinking process was non-existent.”
How comforting for a nation that is mugged, raped and robbed every minute of the day.
Other local authorities proved cripplingly inept as well.
When Bin Laden’s companion Abrar bought property in Abbottabad for the al Qaeda leader’s residence, he used a fake ID card that was readily accepted by the Office of Revenue despite the fact that by this point in time, NICs had been replaced by Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs).
How did all of this even happen?
Moreover, when four metres for electricity and gas were installed in this house to prevent indication of high usage, no one thought to follow up on why an abode housing only two families needed so many metres. Nobody thought to use their brain. From the unusual structure of the house to its illegally constructed third floor, nothing appeared suspicious to the municipal authorities. Instead, they recorded the property as “uninhabited” at a time when 26 people lived in it.
When the 2005 earthquake struck down Bin Laden’s boundary wall, it lay collapsed in rubble for months but the world’s most wanted terrorist still remained undetected.
In light of such 'breathtaking incompetence and irresponsibility' as the Abbottabad Commission puts it, what am I, the average Pakistani, supposed to believe? Should I believe that everyone who runs this country is blind, deaf and dumb to suspect activities that can cost me my life and existence? Or that somewhere, somehow in this entire scenario there were rogue officers pulling strings that left Bin Laden protected for years?
The Abbottabad Commission report further offers some insight here:
“Any of these lapses would in the circumstance be perfectly understandable. But the whole lot taken together added up to something that should not be so easily explained away. Taken together they suggested the possibility of something more sinister.”
“Given the length of stay and the changes of residence of [bin Laden] and his family in Pakistan … the possibility of some such direct or indirect and ‘plausibly deniable’ support cannot be ruled out, at least, at some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment.”
Even the ISI is heavily criticised in the report. It fell short of doing its job when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gave Pakistan phone numbers to monitor - phone numbers that eventually enabled the American manhunt to knock down Bin Laden’s door.
As I read General (R) Pasha’s insight on how the ISI is aware of where “foreign miscreants” are cocooned in major cities but helpless since these areas are off limits for law enforcement agencies, I didn’t quite know whether my fear trumped my scorn or vice versa.
Was Bin Laden one of these “miscreants” then? We may never know.
Among other horrifying revelations, the report also affirmed rumours that there was an implicit agreement between the US and Pakistan on drones, before the Pakistani government began its anti-drone campaign. Pasha said there were no written agreements, and that Pakistan did subsequently attempt to stop drone attacks. He summed it up aptly when he said:
"It was easier to say no to them at the beginning.”
Enter Operation Neptune Spear, the emphatically titled US raid on May 2, 2011 that made Pakistan the laughing stock of the international community. According to the report, the first our air force knew about the raid was when they saw reports of it on the media. Yes, that’s right; our media channels got there faster than our military – a phenomenon so ridiculous even the most embittered citizen will snort in derision.
Three hours of invading Pakistani air and land space, 100 miles of territory explored, a compound attacked, three Pakistanis killed – and the US military was able to leave without detection on our military's part.
A breach of sovereignty for Pakistan? Yes. Or better put by Pasha as the "greatest humiliation" since East Pakistan seceded in 1971.
While the report cites this operation as an “American act of war against Pakistan”, I am conflicted.
Yes, it was an invasion of our rights, but did we deserve the international ‘glory’ of finally annihilating Bin Laden, or the trust that we will be able to manage his capture without leaks, accidents and overlooked details?
In any case, 201 interviews, seven field trip and 52 hearings later, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, head of the Abbottabad Commission, and his team of three have done a remarkably good job of giving an honest account of events. As for our beloved government, after ordering the investigation be conducted, they conveniently hid its findings from the public since January 2, 2013 when it was submitted by Justice Iqbal to the then prime minister.
Our current politicians have reacted to the leaked report in the flustered and inconsequential manner we expect from them. The only takeaway Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervez Rashid could impart with was that the report “leaked to a foreign media outlet would be investigated”, starting with “ascertaining if the leaked report is factual to begin with.” The fact that it was conducted by a Supreme Court judge, on the orders of the government itself is not proof enough of its legitimacy for Mr Rashid. Meanwhile, Jamat-e-Islami (JI) lost no time in calling the report a work of foreign spy agencies (RAW, Mossad, Satan, you get it) bent on destroying the country that actually needs no enemy to destroy itself.
The only message from this entire report that in the slightest endears me to this country I call home is that the report actually exists. There are still people around who want to tell the truth impartially. Thankfully, in the era of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, information makes its way to us somehow – in this case, it happened through the infamous Al Jazeera channel – a personal favourite of Osama Bin Laden according to the report. Now we know why.
Read more by Areeba here.