Ding Dong! The Witch is dead! Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
While many more than the munchkins rejoice world over at news of the death of supreme uber villain Osama bin Laden, the murky circumstances that resulted in his final exit from the war theatre stage echo with the hum of a childhood musical refrain: “Which old witch?”
Is it Osama? The American narrative has stated so time and time again — first in 2002, when FBI’s top counterterrorism official, Dale Watson, had stated: “I personally think he is probably not with us anymore”, and again via a source on Fox News who claimed that bin Laden was laid to rest honourably in his last abode in a grave made in keeping with his Wahabi belief. This was followed by another assertion in 2002, during an interview with a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, which stated that Osama bin Laden had died of kidney failure early that year and, finally, during the 2004 election, in which CNN reported that Democratic insiders had been told that George W Bush was going to use bin Laden’s body as an ace-in-the-hole if he thought he was in danger of losing the 2004 election. And let us also not forget Pakistan’s line — Benazir Bhutto’s claim during an interview that Osama had been killed, and Musharraf’s writing off the old feeble man suffering kidney failure in the heart of Tora Bora.
Not a shred of proof, of course, was offered then, and shockingly or not, neither is any forthcoming now. What we do have is the ever-changing word of the great American spin machines, and the ever-so reluctant whisperings of the Pakistani military spokesmen, all sticking to more or less the same story: Osama was executed in a ‘mansion’ in the heart of military garrison town Abbottabad; the operation was carried out entirely by the Americans with some vague intelligence shared years ago by the Pakistanis; and the ISI knew nothing.
Whatever the reality may be, one thing is certain — the chapter on one of America’s most wanted men is now closed. Boom boom da bam bam, roll end credits.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead … gone where the goblins go,Below - below - below. Yo-ho!
But in these closing musical credits lie the warning words: Wake up, sleepy head, rub your eye, get out of bed … legally, to see — [who is] morally, ethic’lly, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely undeniably and reliably dead!
In the shadows of confused and deliberately misconstrued spin crossfire, almost the second the operation was over, condemnations and suspicions about Pakistan, its military and intelligence agencies sung from all corners of the globe. The New York Times screamed “Pakistan is the problem,” Al Jazeera English warned: It’s time to stop feeding the [Pakistan military] beast, journalist Aryn Baker of Time tweeted: “The idea that absolutely no one but American intelligence knew who was living in that multimillion dollar compound beggars belief”. The BBC stated: “The fact that Osama bin Laden has apparently been living for years under the nose of the Pakistan military also revives the question that has increasingly dogged the US-led coalition in Afghanistan: Why are we still fighting in Afghanistan when it is Pakistan from where the Taliban insurgency is being directed?” World leaders such as the French prime minister, the Indian foreign minister and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai all sing-songed a time-honoured refrain — Pakistan is the hotbed where all terrorism is planned, plotted and executed.
While the Pakistan government sprang into action, admitting no prior knowledge of the SEAL operation, the military waited and waited before admitting to being embarrassed over its massive intelligence failure, and it was a further two days before the army stated that America would not be allowed to get away with this infringement of sovereignty again.
Never mind that none of the narrative, either American or Pakistani, held up to closer scrutiny. Did the actual operation commence from Tarbela or Bagram? No answers yet. Did it last only 20 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes? Was the ISI or military involved in the operation? Were the surrounding areas, in actuality, cordoned off? Were the agencies complicit? Did the army, in fact, scramble, as soon as news of the choppers infiltrating Pakistan’s airspace arrived, and was it ‘ordered’ to stand down? At the very worst, was the golden goose extracted unbeknownst under their very own nose?
Whatever the questions may be, all answers lead to a zero-sum gain for Pakistan. For, as all Pakistanis now speculate, if Osama had been living in Abbottabad and we did not know, we are incompetent fools. Or if we did know, we are playing a double game and all the world sees us as untrustworthy and duplicitous. If we did not allow the American helicopters in, and all our radars were jammed, we are both duplicitous and inept.
But the truth of the matter is, whether General Kayani issued the final imprimatur for the operation or not, or whether the reward was $50 million and a control stake in Afghanistan, and while the operation serves as the perfect ruse for expanded operations in North Waziristan, a face-saving withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan after a deal with Taliban militants and an Obama win in the next US elections — the fact remains that the stage has been nicely set. For a big fall for Pakistan.
So did Operation Osama just provide the ruse for a crucial shift of the war on terror from Afghanistan to Pakistan?
The recent reshuffle of the national security team — with CIA chief Leon Panetta and Isaf head General Petraeus (with an eye on the White House in 2016, if not sooner) swapping jobs — means that the CIA and Pentagon are now indistinguishable. Add to this cauldron the hero of the Afghan war theatre, Lt-Gen John Allen, who will replace General Petraeus, and the brew that must soon be drunk consists of more drones and special forces raids. With an American wish list of permission for Nato forces’ ground operations in North Waziristan to drone strikes in Balochistan, military operations in south Punjab and visible elimination of the Haqqanis and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan may just find itself prepping for an ominous future.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2011.
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