The discovery that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad for at least the last five years must be a source of huge embarrassment for the security services. The armed forces, the only institution in the land which supporters claimed worked, has been shown to be either incompetent or dishonest. The mythical ISI has been shown to be equally incompetent with the most-wanted man in the world hiding in a military cantonment. These are harsh but sobering words that have serious implications for the security of the country. Naturally, the military wants to spread the blame and call this a general failure of intelligence, which includes the CIA. Attempts to deflect criticism may not last long as the CIA trawls through the mother lode of intelligence that was found in Osama’s home, perhaps resulting in leads implicating individuals within the intelligence agencies and the army. Hence the pontificating from US President Barack Obama for the ISI to come clean now and identify the network that sustained al Qaeda and individuals in the security forces who assisted Osama.
The clamour for heads to roll increases as the humiliation of national sovereignty requires satisfaction. However, the failure to capture Osama bin Laden is symptomatic at best, as the fundamental issue that has brought us to this critical juncture is not the failings of the ISI, but of our national security strategy. The policy of strategic depth, which envisages Islamic militants as strategic assets in the eternal opposition to India and who can be used to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan when the US withdraws, is the real problem. There is no doubt that there are elements within the army that are sympathetic, if not in active collusion with the militants. These militants have (or have attempted to) assassinated leading members of the establishment and have brought countless misery to ordinary people with their bombing campaign. Besides this, they nearly brought us to war with India when the Indian parliament was attacked in 2001, contributed to the freezing of relations with New Delhi again in 2008 with the attack on Mumbai and now, Pakistan stares into the abyss because of the discovery of Osama.
Washington is ratcheting up the pressure and there is a real threat that military and civilian aid may perhaps be stopped and thus drive a bankrupt country into further chaos. Those that argue that we should play hardball with the US and put pressure on their operations in Afghanistan in retaliation, are playing with fire. Gung-ho war planners in Washington are ready to take on the Pakistan military. Snatching Osama under the noses of the Pakistan military only reinforces their confidence of having the technical superiority to deal with worst-case scenarios. If cross-border raids into the tribal areas, or Balochistan, on their own, or in conjunction with Indian raids into Kashmir, provoke a conflict with the Pakistan military so be it. They are ready and have the capacity and confidence to neutralise Pakistan’s strategic assets. I do believe, however, that this optimism is overrated and that the likely consequence would be a messy conflict with the potential of proliferating into a nuclear conflict, at least with India, quite likely.
A change in strategy is necessary. Militants need to be recognised as the greatest danger to the security of the country. They are the cause of internal and now, external threats. The concept of strategic depth is an abject failure as it is drawing Pakistan into a collision with the mightiest power in the world. It is now time to delink our security doctrine from militants and not treat them as assets, but as a threat. The purpose of any security strategy is to chart the fate of the country through choppy waters, not to drive it onto the rocks. The present fiasco demonstrates that the security forces cannot solely devise national security policy. Other forms of security paradigms, such as soft power, need to be formulated within a context of a nuclear umbrella and preferably détente with our arch-adversary India. Most importantly, the time has come for parliament to play its role in devising a fresh security strategy, which will avert us from disaster.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2011.
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