The whole premise of this editorial, for the sake of argument, is that a confidential memorandum, addressed to then Admiral Mike Mullen, was assumed to have been written and passed on to the then US military chief. The latter, for his part, curiously enough, first denied any knowledge of the memo, and then said that he may have come across it; then his spokesman confirmed it; and then someone from among his former staff came up with a copy, which then quite conveniently found its way to a blog maintained by Foreign Policy, a prestigious US-based publication.
A close reading of the said memo would suggest — without taking into account all the havoc that it has caused — that it is a backgrounder, so to speak, on how important decisions and policies (permission for drone attacks, release of Raymond Davis, and so on) in Pakistan are made and implemented, particularly those that relate to security, the war on terror, and ties with foreign states, especially America, India and Afghanistan. It really is no secret — and clearly the memo’s content is no revelation on this account — that much of the power rests with Pakistan’s military. The memo has six points, some of which are more interesting and intriguing than others, none so than the second one. Here, the writer or writers (since the last sentence says “members of the new national security team”) claim that if an independent inquiry were to be ordered by the president, a promise held out in the first point, then it would be “certain” that the findings of the commission so formed would “result in immediate termination of active service officers in the appropriate government offices and agencies found responsible for complicity in assisting UBL [Osama bin Laden]”. These are explosive claims, to say the least, and the havoc unleashed by the memo would seem understandable, especially in the state of relations between the civilian government and the military. Going back to the point, again, that divorced from the effects currently taking place inside the country, the memo does seem to accurately depict the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan. The reference to Osama bin Laden being allegedly harboured by state elements had cropped up initially as well. The real issue is that these accusations should have been investigated thoroughly because bin Laden happened to be the world’s most wanted terrorist and, if elements in the government or its associated departments thought otherwise, they should have been uncovered and held accountable. However, the commission that was set up by the government went on to probe other things, mainly whether there was any cooperation at any level by government officials with the Americans. While investigating this may have been a reasonable course of action, one can only wonder how other, perhaps more important questions — such as how bin Laden could have been hiding undetected in a place like Abbottabad for so many years — were never asked. At the very least, an independent forensic probe should be conducted to ascertain who exactly sent and received the BlackBerry messages that are part of the controversy. This can be done by calling in some foreign experts to ensure the perception of impartiality. And since the matter is of a most grave nature, involving, as some have said Article 6, the Supreme Court could take note of it as well. Nawaz Sharif has already called for a committee into this matter and that is a worthwhile demand.
Instead of routing its attempt to bring the military under its control via the Americans, the PPP-led government should have used the parliament. Let us, for example, consider what has happened in Turkey in recent months, where a once-powerful army has seen its authority appropriated by an elected civilian government. In this, the impetus for change was brought about by the ruling Justice and Development Party, which won an almost two-thirds majority in its third election win this past June. It has dexterously and openly, unlike the backchannels that seem to have been used in Pakistan and that too via a country that seems to be disliked by many Pakistanis, used its widening popular support to tilt the balance of power in favour of civilian centres of authority in Turkey, as should be the case in a fully functional democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2011.