Whether Osama bin Laden (OBL) managed to evade the attention of Pakistan’s military-intelligence authorities because of their connivance or their negligence, one thing is clear: The buck stops at the doors of the GHQ. Why? The answer is simple: The military ultimately decides matters of war and peace. Hence, it must also squarely accept responsibility for making (or not making) the right decisions.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. For a fleeting moment, I thought the whole OBL episode could provide a golden opportunity for openly questioning the military’s veto over defining and defending the ‘national interest’. But, not surprisingly, the initial debate on the issue seemed to be heading in the opposite direction, thanks in good measure to our ‘lamestream’ electronic media. The role played by many a news anchor and the usual suspects who appear on their shows as experts, was particularly egregious. As soon as the news of OBL’s demise hit the airwaves, this assorted gang of spin doctors went batting for the ‘establishment’, disingenuously thumping their chests over the failure of the civilian government to prevent another violation of Pakistani sovereignty, and, of course, repackaging familiar conspiracy theories, from casting the operation to get OBL as a dry run in the diabolic American plot to deprive us of our mighty atomic weapons, to dismissing it all as a cynical attempt by the Obama administration to shore up its sagging domestic political fortunes. There were a few sane voices reminding everyone that the capture of OBL on our territory would be interpreted by the international community as solid evidence of Pakistan’s duplicity in the fight against terrorism. But fact and reason predictably drowned in the shrill crescendo of paranoid nationalism.
Then came the belated official Pakistani reaction, ostensibly crafted by the brilliant graduates of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). This priceless exercise in self-indictment basically revealed that the Americans swooped deep into Pakistani territory to take out their enemy number one while the generals were sleeping at the switch, ‘blind spots’ and all. Hence, by the generals’ own admission: They are not up to the task for which an impoverished nation compensates them more than handsomely.
The military’s latest faux pas shows that the real threat to Pakistan emanates not only from militants and ‘hostile’ neighbouring states. It is rooted in its warped civil-military state structure that allows the establishment to always duck responsibility for its misdeeds. From the military’s violent suppression of the Bengalis’ democratic aspirations, which fractured the state in 1971, to its strategic blunder at Kargil in 1999 (history’s first ground war between two nuclear-armed states), the military has never been held accountable. Its continuing pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ against India has brought Pakistan ever so close to the status of a ‘failing’ state, one that is struggling to enforce its writ on its own territory but indulges in costly proxy warfare in its surrounding region.
Enough is enough. Heads must roll this time. The military high command must be held accountable for this act of commission or omission. Everyone must do their part in speaking the harsh truth to those in power, including political parties and members of civil society. Some unlikely heroes in the media have turned to faulting the ‘establishment’ for letting Pakistan down. It is still too soon to tell if this is a temporary blip driven by a concern for ratings or (the more unlikely) stirrings of professional integrity. While public opinion is crucial, the primary responsibility for holding the military accountable rests with parliament. The standing committees on defence must summon the high command and ask it all the tough questions in the days ahead. Ultimately, we need to devise ways to guard the guardians. There is no other choice. The establishment has shown us that we need not fear external enemies; it is fully capable of squandering our security through its ‘patriot games’.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2011.
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