The parking lot and galleries were unusually crowded on Monday. The reason was obvious: Prime Minister Gilani was expected to make a comprehensive statement over the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The session started 50 minutes late and Petroleum Minister Naveed Qamar moved for suspension of rules to fast forward to the PM’s statement.
But in his 30-minute speech, Gilani failed miserably in trying to clarify what had transpired on May 1.
The PM blamed the 24-hour media coverage for instilling “fascination for high drama” which encourages the propensity to speculate. He then spoke at length about what had led to the Afghan jihad.
Although expressing pride over Pakistan’s role in the jihad, he bitterly admitted that involvement had brought terrorist leaders, such as Bin Laden, from all over the world to Pakistan.
Practically speaking, he revealed only two things. One, an inquiry is being conducted by the adjutant-general of the Pakistan Army but he did not divulge its terms of reference. Chaudhry Nisar was right in questioning the inquiry’s validity. The PM also committed to an in-camera joint sitting of parliament, which will be attended by the military elite.
Gilani often tells journalists that he did a master’s degree in journalism. But, of all the prime ministers I have reported on since 1985, he seems to be the weakest at media management. Insipid bureaucrats with shameless ambitions for upward mobility speak to the media for him who have learnt to deliver only in a buy-or-bully environment. Since bullying has become increasingly difficult for the information ministry babus over the years, they try “cultivating journalists” by giving them space on the prime minister’s plane during foreign trips.
Someone must tell Gilani that in this era of virtual reality, a politician creates an impression of being a dynamic doer via optics. If in doubt, recall a picture the White House released before spinning stories regarding Operation Geronimo in which President Obama and his team appear like a hands-on solidity.
Did Gilani and his media-handlers not realise that since his return from France, the entire world is awaiting his statement on the operation? Why didn’t he ask the services chiefs to sit in the gallery while he delivered this anxiously-awaited statement? It would’ve sent out a clear enough message that the political and military leadership is on the same page over the issue and provided substance to the PM’s repeated assertion that “all institutions of the state of Pakistan are on the same page”. New allies Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Faisal Saleh Hayat, and powerful allies like Asfandyar Wali, were also absent.
The PM’s spin doctors passed all the blame to our ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, and his real promoter and protector, President Asif Ali Zardari. We were made to believe that in some areas of Pakistan, CIA operatives and assets outnumber personnel working for national security outfits. Osama, they claim, would still have been alive if Haqqani and Zardari were not so irresponsibly generous in granting visas to Americans.
Gilani seemed oblivious to the possible interpretations of this spin while haltingly reading through a wishy-washy script.
It was time for him to bravely admit to the nation that the state did not find out about Bin Laden’s presence until Obama made an early morning telephone call to Zardari.
The military and political leadership knew about it hardly a few minutes after the operation’s completion and pondered over a reaction during a late night meeting at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. The political leadership wilfully embraced the suggestion that Pakistan must do everything to give the impression that the Americans had conducted the operation all alone.
The prime minister stuck to the given line while delivering his statement, without thinking that “serious diversions” to the “agreed script” had already occurred while he was away. Gilani should remember that Nawaz Sharif could not protect his government of a two-thirds majority after owning up to the mess at Kargil. Things will not be different this time around.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2011.
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