While a frenzied debate is raging over the Abbottabad Commission report released by Al Jazeera, the report is actually an earlier draft that had been prepared by the commission through a bizarre internal arrangement under which several versions were to be produced by the members in the hope of reconciling them all into a final one in the end.
Interviews with senior civil and political sources reveal that after the formation of the commission, differences crept up among its members on the approach to the inquiry, the scope and method of inquiry and more important, in drafting the findings of the commission.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, a former foreign office bureaucrat with an international career stint in Iraq, wanted to give the report “an extraordinary cutting edge, one that would make the substance stand out for a long time to come,” said a source at the law ministry.
The Abbottabad Commission’s President, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, a former Supreme Court judge, wanted the report to “not exceed the requirements as communicated by the ministry of law, justice and parliamentary affairs”. These requirements were to ascertain the full facts regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan; investigate the circumstances and facts regarding the US operation in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011; determine the nature, background and causes of lapses of authorities, if any; and finally to make consequential recommendations.
Sources reveal that in order to avoid lingering arguments among the members, it was decided that each member would produce his own draft and then a final version would contain the substance of each one of them.
As a result, three drafts were prepared while the fourth member, Abbas Khan, was never really interested in burning the midnight oil over the task at hand.
The Al Jazeera scoop is actually one of these three drafts. So whose draft is it? This is to be determined by the Intelligence Bureau director who has been asked by the federal government to look into the source that caused embarrassment by leaking the document.
In all probability, this draft is the one prepared by Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.
“I have seen the three drafts and all I can tell you is that this is the most aggressive draft of the three, but not the final one,” claimed a senior law ministry official.
The “aggressive draft” could have been prepared by Qazi, who from the very word go wanted not to be associated with something that lacks “soul and substance.” The language of the draft in circulation is exceptionally harsh, the idiom is pointed and all of its over 300 pages are peppered with not-so-oblique references to the failure of the intelligence network in tracking the presence of OBL and countering CIA’s operations on Pakistani soil.
Sources who had witnessed some of the meetings of the commission suggested that of the four members, Qazi’s line of inquiry always centred on these themes and in his conversations with his fellow members he used many of the phrases that are now found in the draft released by Al Jazeera.
“This does not mean that the leak has taken place at the level of commission. We hope it has not. They are all honourable members of impeccable credibility. All it means is that what you all have been reporting on for days is not the authentic report,” said the same the official who was grossly unhappy over the fact that the Pakistani media did not pay any attention to Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal’s statements about the lack of authenticity of the draft doing the rounds after Al Jazeera uploaded its scanned copies on its website.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said in a telephonic interview that a special committee was formed by former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf which was headed by former law minister Senator Farooq H Naek with the defense secretary and foreign affairs secretary as its other two members. This committee was supposed to read the final report and make the recommendation on when and how to release it.
“This the committee never did, and now we are looking at the final version of the report to decide about its official release,” said Rashid. He also seconded the assessment that Al Jazeera released report was just a draft.
This deepens the mystery about what the final draft may look like, and whether the tone and tenor of its formulations as indeed its final recommendations would be the same as those that are contained in the draft in circulation.
“The testimonies and statements that the report relies on are the same so there will not be much change in the hard facts of the final report,” said a source who claims to have the seen the final report. “However, the interpretations given in the draft that you (media) have and what is official could be markedly different.”
This is partly because of the desultory manner in which the commission gathered its facts. There are “notes” and “impressions” penned by hired researchers and gleaned by members of the commission throughout their meetings but very few, if any, “substantive statements presented in black and white.” The commission chose not to have audio, video record of these statements of various characters who deposed before them and relied on the minute-taking method. For this reason, there was no chance of going back to any important claim and crosscheck its true context before using it as a basis for drawing conclusions and making recommendations.
This meant that the final word on what everyone said was with the drafter.
The much-awaited final draft should be coming up soon. The ministry of foreign affairs and even the prime minister’s top advisers are convinced that an early release of the real report would kill the sensation generated by the extraordinary opinionated draft that holds the market of debate these days.
However that itself might turn out to be wishful thinking. As it is, the delay in the release of the “official and final” report has made the Al Jazeera-released draft very popular. It has been referenced and cross-referenced endlessly in national and international media and analysts have pored over each and every word of it. The “final report”, whenever it is let out, would now be read in comparison with this draft and all changes and differences between the two will be keenly observed and commented upon. If the changes are too many, then the final report will never escape the charge of being deliberately modified to avoid harsh conclusions.
More importantly, the final version itself has two versions! The final report, reportedly authored by General (retd) Nadeem Ahmad, has a dissenting note by Qazi, who theorises about the probable causes of OBL’s presence in Pakistan and uses both his intuition and opinion to point to the sinister plot that perhaps someone in Pakistan knew about his whereabouts. On this dissenting note, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal has his own comments (dissenting note upon a dissenting note).
No one in the government wanted to comment on this war of dissenting notes so in all probability the final version will be minus this controversial side, which is part of the record at least. Whether it is released in its entirety or not is to be seen.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.