Wake up and smell the coffee

Published: May 7, 2011
The writer’s first book, Looking For America, has been published by Harper Collins India. He is a former editor of the Hindustan Times’s Mumbai edition 

The writer’s first book, Looking For America, has been published by Harper Collins India. He is a former editor of the Hindustan Times’s Mumbai edition [email protected]

In early 2009, when Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst and special assistant to the US president, was in the process of presenting what’s come to be known as the Riedel review on AfPak, he and Rahm Emmanuel had a revealing exchange that Bob Woodward reported in Obama’s Wars.

Emmanuel, then White House chief of staff, always teetering on the verge of profanity, probably controlled himself to ask: “What do you mean you don’t know where he is?”. The US was spending $50 billion on intelligence “and you don’t know where the most wanted man in the history of the world is?”.

Let’s start by taking the position that the US intelligence community didn’t know where Osama bin Laden was at the time of this conversation. This would, of course, be despite the generous cooperation the Pakistani state had extended in the hunt for Geronimo until then.

All the US had been able to confirm by the time the Bush years drew down was that a lot of the $2 billion annual payout that the ISI received was used, minus commissions, to buy weapons and sustenance for terrorists. And possibly, as it turns out, to build a bungalow in Abbottabad with nice high walls on the outskirts of which cabbages and marijuana would one day grow.

That Bin Laden, like everyone else the US really wanted, was under house arrest in Pakistan had been apparent even to President Bush. All that stopped his administration from saying so publicly was that they weren’t sure which house.

This deep distrust led to a policy for drone attacks on supposedly sovereign territory, which ultimately ensured the success of the operation that killed Bin Laden: The Pakistanis would be informed after the goals had been achieved.

For the Big One, President Obama passed the information on himself.

At 1:30 am on May 2, about 20 minutes after the deed was done, this is how the incident was reported in one of Pakistan’s leading news outlets: “A helicopter crashed on PMA Kakul road in the wee hours of Monday, sources said. According to the sources, security forces cordoned off the area; meanwhile, relief activities were also kicked off soon after the incident.” “Relief activities”? No doubt the sources were military sources.

The world’s most wanted man could not be ‘in hiding’ in a garrison town, so close to the sensitive border with its greatest enemy. It had to be either complicity or incompetence, said the world’s media.

But what if it were both? The incompetence of the civilian government is something that Pakistanis live with every day. It would come as no surprise to those who live in Pakistan that it would have had little knowledge, and even less control, on matters such as building a house for Bin Laden.

The world assumes that terrorists in Pakistan are offered sanctuaries and even assistance and that this cannot happen without the consent of Pakistan’s most entrenched institution. Pakistani officials, however, deny all of this all the time. And it seems that citizens buy this, believing that whatever the state and the military do is in the national interest.

The position of the state isn’t going to change after the Bin Laden killing. The military has said that it will give a befitting response to India and demanded that America scale back its military presence in the country. That’s all it seems to have said. But the civilian might do a little rethink after what he’s seen. First, what kind of state cannot thwart such a blatant violation of sovereignty? And that too by a few choppers and a few dozen commandos?

There is an even more important consideration. Pakistan has told both the world and its own citizens that it is the greatest victim of terrorism: 30,000 lives have been lost. The world’s greatest terrorist, however, was apparently living comfortably on its soil. There are a range of Indian views on this. The unhinged think this is open season, so a good time to strike Navy SEAL-style and take out targets like Hafeez Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim.

The naive demand a painless, pleasant (in sum, absurd) handover of such people. And the pragmatic hope Bin Laden’s death will help Pakistan wake up and smell the coffee and realise what is actually in the ‘national interest’.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Wellwisher
    May 7, 2011 - 7:13AM

    Laws of the land do not allow action against Hafeez Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim. But will allow OBL relatives to reach their respective countries without a trial for entering Pakistan without papers.Recommend

  • Nitin
    May 7, 2011 - 8:43AM

    You are a case of – Have Mouth, will talk or in other words Have keyboard, will type…..

    There are too many pseudo experts like this author who are saying the same oft repeated stuff. It has almost become mundane…

    One good thing with OBL’s encounter is that it has tremendously helped these so called experts, analysts to mint money by giving opinions simply based on his personal preferences without backing up with evidence, or even doing basic study on the subject. OBL has become the subject of the season. You just can’t talk anything else….People as unrelated as this author are also barking of their throats….just feels like yelling SHUTUP!!!

    Is it just me or do others feel the same??Recommend

  • harkol
    May 7, 2011 - 10:36AM

    Most of Pakistan has forgotten what “national interest” means. It means a economic growth and and better living standards for its people. It means peaceful co-existence with its neighbors, which in turn provides security.

    Pakistan has forgotten why it needs military. Security need not only be achieved through militarism. Military’s whole purpose is to guard the geography from external incursions, thus providing peace. It is similar to the role of anti-bodies in human body. If military turns inwards to rule over its people, then it is akin to cancer. In Pakistan people of all denominations can come in and create havoc, but the military is focused more on how to rule over its own people and keep making noises, instead of doing some good.

    Pakistan has also forgotten that religion isn’t a purpose in itself. Religion only ‘has’ a purpose – To provide a set of rules to govern a society that is just, peaceful and equitable to all. Making religion the sole purpose of existence and making all other interests subservient to that perceived ‘righteousness’ will only lead to disaster.

    Hopefully, Pakistani civilians wake up before its too late.Recommend

  • May 7, 2011 - 1:10PM

    Watched an interesting exchange on PTV moderated by Moeed Pirzada – even this much lauded moderator was losing the plot as he talked about what leverage Pakistan has with the US. And this leverage had apparently improved after the davis episode. Joining him in this incoherent ‘we have all lost the plot’ chorus were a blonde woman called Mariana and a guy with an American accent. Another general was talking about getting the house in order. Sadly, Mosharraf Zaidi was being shouted down as he said that the priority now was accountability for what happened. It seems to me that the powers that be have it easy in Pakistan because people quickly lose the plot. For instance, the images of Raja and Kalmadi in jail are powerful force-feeding attempts at encouraging some degree of honesty. Ideally, Gilani should have apologised to the nation and immediately put together a parliamentary (interparty) committee to investigate the matter. The top brass of the army and the isi should then have to be called to testify (in camera if you prefer) – nothing would have been more powerful than Shuja Pasha testifying in front of the members of parliament. Instead Pasha is on his way to the USA to testify to the CIA. Recommend

  • Kamran Khan
    May 7, 2011 - 1:23PM

    Complicity OR incompetence ? This is to account for normal people’s failures. For us, it is definitely BOTH. Look at the world biting its nails over another of our agencies’ heroic performance!! Recommend

  • Faraz
    May 7, 2011 - 2:06PM

    “And it seems that citizens buy this, believing that whatever the state and the military do is in the national interest.”

    We do not buy this. You need to wake up and smell the coffee too.Recommend

  • Narayana Murthy
    May 7, 2011 - 4:01PM


    “We do not buy this. You need to wake up and smell the coffee too.”

    You don’t believe it Farz. So will hundreds of thousands who visit such sites. But there are millions who believe this and are you surprised that these people are protesting on your streets today?

    By the way, an extremely lame article. Extremely lame. Nothing new to learn from this articicle.Recommend

  • Sverige
    May 7, 2011 - 4:37PM

    I dont understand, how could just someone comes up and criticise the whole nation in its own newspaper. It is very easy to write such articles based upon personal assumptions.
    There should be some filter to print articles on ET. We need ideas to develop not criticism. Recommend

  • Mahmood
    May 7, 2011 - 9:12PM

    @Sverige “We need ideas to develop not criticism.”

    Criticism promotes ideas – hopefully ideas will promote solutions. The authors views may not show Pakistan in a good light – but those views may not be incorrect and probably reflect how most of the World see’s Pakistan.Recommend

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