Pakistani lawmakers unequivocally condemned US unilateral action in Abbottabad and called for a review of the country’s terms of engagement with the United States in a resolution passed after an almost 10-hour marathon joint session of Parliament, briefed in-camera by intelligence, military and air force chiefs.
The lawmakers also warned the US against conducting unilateral operations in Pakistani territory, including drone strikes, failing which the government may consider withdrawal of transit facility to Nato/Isaf forces in Afghanistan.
After a heated debate, parliamentarians also agreed to appoint an independent commission on the Abbottabad operation to fix responsibility and recommend necessary measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur.
The composition of the commission would be settled after consultations between the leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition, the resolution said.
Generals answer questions
Friday’s joint session set a rare precedent in Pakistan’s history,
wherein beleaguered military authorities offered themselves for accountability before the Parliament as head of the country’s most powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) offered to resign in the aftermath of the Abbottabad debacle.
Director-general (DG) ISI Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha and deputy chief of air staff (operations) Air Marshal Mohammad Hassan briefed the parliamentarians and responded to their questions while heads of three armed forces – army, navy and air force – sat in the officials’ galleries during Friday’s closed-door session that continued late night.
“If people think that the situation can improve in case of my resignation I am ready to step down right now,” Pasha is reported to have said.
“I have already submitted my resignation to my chief (chief of army staff) and if the prime minister and the Parliament want so, I will walk out from here as a retired officer,” sources quoted DG ISI as having said in response to questions from lawmakers, mainly belonging to the opposition, over the Abbottabad fiasco.
World’s most wanted man and al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2 in a US operation in the garrison city of Abbottabad.
The civilian and military leadership of the country claim that the US carried out this covert operation unilaterally, in violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The US used stealth technology to enter into Pakistani territory and their helicopters made their way deep inside the country without being detected by country’s radar system, Air Marshal Hassan told the parliamentarians, disclosed sources privy to the briefing.
The technology, currently used only by US military, allows stealth aircraft to prevent conventional radars from detecting or tracking it effectively.
Hassan added the US flew their helicopters at much lower altitude than usual during the operation using the nap-of-the-earth flight course, also known as terrain hugging, and used the hilly terrain to remain elusive.
He claimed that the US choppers were already out of Pakistan’s air-space when the air force fighter jets were sent to intercept them.
When asked if the country’s air force has the capability to detect aircraft in case the US uses the same stealth technology, he said ‘no.’
Installing a large number of low detection radars on the western border would be very costly, and may not be possible in the near future due to financial constraints, he said.
However, he added, Pakistan has the capability to target unmanned aircraft, commonly known as ‘drones,’ used by the US in the tribal areas of the country.
Most of the questions during the session, especially from the opposition benches, were directed to DG ISI.
When the ISI chief was asked about Bin Laden’s presence in the garrisoned city of Abbottabad and why the intelligence agencies failed to detect him for this long, he admitted it was his agency’s failure. However, he said, the ISI was never aware of Bin Laden’s presence in the area.
Pasha evaded questions regarding information obtained from Bin Laden’s family currently in the custody of Pakistani authorities.
He said investigations were still under way and it would not be appropriate to disclose the details at this point.
Pasha reportedly also told lawmakers that the nation has to shrug off the perception that dependence on US is vital for the country’s survival.
During background interaction, lawmakers from both the treasury and opposition appeared irked at the unsatisfactory answers provided during the briefing.
It would have been better to open the session to media since hardly any classified information was given by the military authorities, lawmakers said.
Friday’s briefing was the third instance in Pakistan’s history whereby military authorities appeared before the Parliament for an in-camera session.
The scenario this time around, however, was markedly different from the previous two instances.
The first in-camera briefing was given in 1988 by the then-ISI chief Lt Gen (retd) Hameed Gul after the signing of the Geneva accord.
He had reportedly said that it was due to ISI’s successful strategy that the Soviet Union suffered a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan.
Veteran parliamentarians who were part of General Zia ul Haq’s assembly say that Gul predicted the fall of Soviet Union during the briefing and claimed the USSR would shrink to Moscow and its surrounding areas after suffering defeat at the hands of CIA and ISI trained Mujahideen.
The second in-camera session was held in 2008 when military authorities needed support of public representatives before launching the operation in Swat against the Taliban.
Addressing the media after adoption of the resolution, Nisar revealed that discussions over the content of joint resolution had terminated four times due to government’s resistance to incorporate opposition’s demand.
He said his party wanted an even more strongly worded resolution but government had certain reservations on a number of issues.
Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan termed the joint session which culminated into passing of a unanimous resolution as a new chapter in the history of the country.
She appreciated the commitment of all the parties represented in the parliament for passing of this resolution. She called it a success of whole nation and said that the political parties have resolved to defend the sovereignty of the country.
DG ISI accepts failure, apologises and offers to resign
Deputy air chief says US used stealth technology, Pakistan lacks capability to detect stealth aircraft
Also says Shamsi airbase not under Pakistan’s control
Lawmakers bemoan ‘unsatisfactory’ answers, say hardly any classified information divulged
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2011.