Taking into account the possibility of sharp reactions by leaders of some political parties during a closed-door session of Parliament on Friday, the armed forces have opted to let Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retd) Athar Ali brief parliamentarians about the US military operation in Abbottabad.
The move comes as the government frets over whom among politicians sitting outside the legislature to invite to attend the closed session of Parliament, which has officially been summoned by the president for May 13.
Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Air Chief Rao Qamar Suleman and the directors-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) would assist the defence secretary.
The military command is said to be taking this parliamentary briefing a lot more seriously than the one it had given about the Swat operation two years ago.
Sources said the military command is expecting a barrage of sharp questions from the political leadership, most notably the opposition led by PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, during the course of the briefing. The military is coming up with convincing reasons for the apparent failure of intelligence in tracing Osama bin Laden and their apparent laidback attitude in the face of the unilateral operation by the United States.
A major reason being cited for Athar Ali’s selection is the fact that he is the only military man who – despite his retirement – still enjoys close ties with the top military brass, and also is in the good books of the National Assembly’s 20-member Public Accounts Committee led by an increasingly fiery Chaudhry Nisar.
It is a common perception that Nisar has been “very soft” on the retired general during PAC meetings: In fact, the PML-N leader had even praised the retired general for his hard work in “improving” fiscal discipline within the military establishment.
Ali, who is a classmate of Gen Kayani from the military academy and a close personal friend, has been chosen on the basis of his experience in dealing with politicians – most notably his success in fending off ferocious attacks launched by lawmakers during the PAC meetings.
Earlier, Nisar, among other politicians, had alarmed the military establishment and the civilian government functionaries when he delivered a hard-hitting speech when ISI Director-General Lt Gen Shuja Pasha had appeared before parliamentarians to brief them on another issue. Sources say that some among the military establishment feared that Nisar could object if the parliamentarians were briefed by either the army chief or chief of the intelligence agencies in the presence of their administrative “boss”, the defence secretary.
The provincial chief ministers and governors are likely to be invited to attend this briefing so as to bring them on board on the issue.
The government, it is learnt, wanted to invite all the leading politicians who are not members of the legislature. Sources said that, during the consultation process, an objection was raised that the last time a secret briefing was given (on the status of the Swat operation), only Nawaz Sharif had been invited.
It was argued that, this time, either no one should be invited to attend the briefing, or if Nawaz was asked, other politicians, such as Imran Khan and Mahmood Achakzai, should also be requested to attend.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2011.
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