Whose failure is it anyway?

The prime minister went a little overboard defending the army.


Editorial May 10, 2011

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, on May 9, read out a prepared speech in answer to US President Barack Obama’s remark that Osama bin Laden had enjoyed some sort of ‘support system’ in Abbottabad for over five years. The prime minister rebutted the charge, made in and outside Pakistan, that his government had suffered an intelligence failure. He dismissed as ‘absurd’, American accusations that Osama was able to hide in the country due to ‘either an official support network or the incompetence of Pakistani authorities’.

The burden of the message was hidden in the following lines, more meant for domestic consumption: “I have full confidence in the high command of the Pakistan armed forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)”. He tried to palliate the impact of the charge against Pakistani intelligence by saying that what had actually happened was a ‘global intelligence failure’. The ISI, to whose chief his government had granted an extension in service, was not to blame. That took care of the ‘unofficial’ American charge that the ISI could have been, not merely ‘negligent’, but ‘complicit’ in providing safe haven to Osama bin Laden.

But the opposition in the National Assembly was not going to back him on what he said on the basis of any solidarity born out of anti-Americanism. PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called for the resignation of President Asif Ali Zardari and the Gilani government. After that there was an exchange of familiar accusations, although the PPP’s latest alliance-making in parliament had ensured security to anyone being suspected of ‘complicity’ in the Osama affair.

The prime minister went a little overboard defending the army. He accused the US of going through the operation to take Osama without informing Pakistan — and thus infringing its sovereignty — implying that after the ‘global failure’ of intelligence, Pakistan’s failure should have been treated at par. The facts on the ground actually indicate that the US intelligence had succeeded and not failed — while Pakistan was trying to curtail the presence of US intelligence personnel on its soil. To pre-empt any criticism, Mr Gilani referred to the ISI’s sharing of intelligence with the CIA in 2009. He took offence at the implication that the agency was, as alleged in the western media, in cahoots with al Qaeda. He somewhat cryptically added: “The Abbottabad episode illustrates that Pakistan’s military quickly responded to the American forces’ covert incursion”.

Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was more aggressive about the American operation, had complained that Pakistan’s civilian authorities had spoken with many tongues, thus rendering Pakistan’s riposte to the American accusations less robust. He must have in mind the article President Zardari contributed to an American paper immediately after the Abbottabad operation. President Zardari had tried to defend the army in it but less emphatically, allowing more space to the commonality of views with the US on the subject of terrorism, saying that 85 per cent of the people in Pakistan hated al Qaeda.

It may well happen that the truth may be obfuscated behind the government’s defence of the army and the opposition’s demand for the resignation of the government. Ever since the raid, there has been vociferous protest, led mainly by the religious parties and the jihadi militias which in the past were supported by the establishment, but which ordinary Pakistanis fear. Most of the TV channels are conveying these anti-American passions; and the military has said that it will stand with the people and is not prepared to barter the nation’s honour. This then creates a situation where the elected government comes under pressure.

The failure is ours. We don’t answer the questions that the world is asking us. How is it that global terrorism, one way or another, originates in Pakistan? How is it that Pakistan doesn’t feel that its sovereignty is being trampled underfoot by foreign terrorists on its soil? Why is the state not acting against areas where terrorists and militant outfits seem to have safe havens? (Some of these outfits have UN-mandated bans on them.) If the prime minister’s speech seeks to unite a nation that stands completely isolated in the rest of the world, what good is that unity, except that it ensures continuity in wrong policy and certain self-destruction?

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2011.

COMMENTS (17)

Saad | 10 years ago | Reply @TightDhoti: Oh yeah, really??? Good to know that.
amoghavarsha.ii | 10 years ago | Reply I don't know how HE can say " GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE FAILURE ". REALLY THE BIGGEST BOUNCER IT IS.
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