“We are a failing state even if we are not a failed state yet” thus spoke Lieutenant General (retd) Ahmad Shuja Pasha while talking to the Abbottabad Commission. The commission’s report is a chilling read, very well written and brutally honest albeit in short doses. Reading the report one is tempted to agree with the former Chief Spook’s statement. Starting with the obvious points, the most wanted fugitive in the world staying at a kilometre’s distance from the PMA for years, “Men at their best”? Not inside an underground tunnel mind you but in a fort-like compound. We know the salient points of the episode and our deepest fears are only reinforced by the report. Everybody should read it. If sparing the time to read 337 pages seems difficult, at least please do not miss General Pasha’s statement. The evidence of a failing state is right there. A state which allows gentlemen like General Pasha to rise to the absolute top is not fantastically successful.
The gallant General also believes that practically everyone in Pakistan is up for sale, many of the “journalists are heavily bribed with money, women and alcohol”. The pleasant General admitted that the “ISI has harmed many decent people”, and almost in the same breath cautions that those who fear the ISI are those “who should fear the ISI”. He was not alone though, the Air Chief made the nuanced point that, “… people were generally ill informed and did not know much about the hard facts concerning important events. Pakistanis were emotional people…”. What contempt in the aftermath of failure and embarrassment — and “we are sorry” is what the nation should have been told.
The General also conveyed his strong disagreement with former PM Gilani’s comment of “a state within a state” calling them “very unfair”. Here again, perhaps PM Gilani was in fact wrong. His statement presumes the existence of two states whereas in the commission report one is hard pressed to find evidence of even one. The report stops short of complicity at most points; it however does express wonder at the intention behind the gross incompetence. On the question of how OBL was able to stay in the Cantonment, the Commission found the official explanations credible “up to a point” (How one wishes it is as a veiled reference to “up to a point, Lord Copper”). The full inventory has been left for another day. The ISI, MI, DG MO and PAF amongst other military personnel all seemed very uninformed and nowhere as sure as they are when forcibly ensuring our salvation. No real surprises there. If you read the report, the responsibility remains on the military.
Yet, the other “state” does not cover itself in glory either. The house where OBL was living in was bought through a fake NIC, the construction was in violation of building rules (third storey built without permission, eighteen-foot high walls, barbed wires, etc), no revenue tax on the property was ever paid, four gas and electricity meters were installed in the house with no questions asked even when there were no television or telephone cables, no garbage was ever collected.
In a housing survey the compound was rather poetically declared be-chiragh, i.e., uninhabited, at a time when 25 people lived there. OBL was invisible, or perhaps the state was.
Much has been said on the civil-military question and much more will certainly be said, as it needs to be said. Heads should roll, the intelligence framework reconfigured, the recommendation of the commission report implemented. The intelligence agencies be brought under civilian control, I know, but it is a pleasurable imagination. The civil bureaucratic elite also come out of this plastered in mud.The remnants of the colonial era of yore posses the approach and knowledge suited for the late 1800s. Most officers come across as not having read the Police Order, 2002. The acting DG FIA was candid enough to admit that he had not found the time to go through the schedule appended to the FIA Act, and hence was unaware of his exact responsibilities.
The right kind, the only kind of state has to be seen, before it is believed, a state which talks to its people. The Munir Report instead of being translated and made part of the curriculum lies dusty and not talked about. The Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report was brought to us by the foreign media by a leak. Remaining on foreign media, Karachi has been a city without the state, and no one talks about it. Now a logical culmination seems inevitable. The other “state” might have run its course as it was always bound to. And there will be blood. Karachi is not only without a state, it is also armed heavily. There is always a price for silence, for abdication.
Expectations need to be managed and optimism dampened. Policy shifts and institutional reforms are not on the menu. What can be hoped is that a conversation starts. The military establishment has to realise that the closet has long run out of space. The civilians should read this report and find out what the masters in uniform think of them.
Coming back to the opening statement of the state failing and perhaps having failed. Pakistan would have long been buried and failed were it not a country of Malalas as well. The malicious conspiracy theorists and the nasty apologists outnumber her, but do not outgun her. Listening to her majestic, awe inspiring, sincere speech in the UN, all is not lost. Arrogance, cynicism and petty vindictiveness are not all that we have got. Malala said, “… The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala.
“My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.” She said “… Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorists group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists especially the Taliban. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me.” The State might be failing; we as a people are alive and well as long as we have Malalas amongst us. Jiyo Hazaaron Saal.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.