The recently leaked Abbottabad Commission report paints a damning portrait of our national affairs. Some in the international media are not sure that Pakistan should be let off the hook so easily and it is indeed depressing that the “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” should be considered a cop-out. But sadly, for Pakistan at this point, it is.
A day after the report came out, a CBS headline asked the million-dollar question on everyone’s mind: Did Pakistanis construct a “we’re stupid” narrative to avoid worse accusations of collusion? There is no real way of knowing since we are forever mired in questions and doubts after any national calamity. That is why, the release of information to the public is so crucial. For a nation steeped in conspiracy theories and paranoia, this report is a sobering look inwards.
It is not surprising that the authorities sought to repress the document since it does not hold back when appropriating blame. However, the report stops just short of actually naming names. And herein lies the main problem— the biggest reason behind the dismal state of our national affairs. Our incompetence and corruption are not limited to individuals. Our problem is much more problematic and permeates entire institutions from the lowest level up.
Take the case of the compound itself which was built on land purchased with a fake identity card, was in violation of several construction regulations, had taxes pending on it and many more such red flags flapping away merrily from its illegal third floor and yet, all the relevant authorities snoozed.
The Commission followed with a sceptical observation — one of many in the report. All these lapses on their own would be understandable, they noted, but taken together, they are not as easy to explain. In fact, “they suggested the possibility of something more sinister”.
As the Commission goes on to establish the intelligence failures and the troubling distrust between the civilian and intelligence administrations that led to this debacle, it makes it clear that the mismanagement at the lower levels lies with those walking in the most prestigious corridors of power. The Americans entered our airspace, took out the world’s most notorious terrorist in the garrison town of Abbottabad, all while crash-landing a helicopter and making refuelling stops, and were well out of the picture before the first Pakistani authorities reached the scene.
Finally, Justice Javed Iqbal and colleagues concluded that those at the highest levels of authority in national decision-making should, at least, submit a formal apology to the nation and let them pass verdict on election day.
In the six-month lapse between the time this report was submitted and leaked, the PPP government was unceremoniously voted out. So, what was the reaction of the current government? The first response was from the minister for information and broadcasting, Pervez Rashid, calling the authenticity of the report into question while warning that people responsible for leaking the report will be held accountable. It seems the new government has decided to take serious notice of the report. It’s too bad that its interest is limited to the faded Al Jazeera watermark stamped over each and every page of it.
There are some very good recommendations in the report, such as the suggested merit-based system for appointment of government personnel as well as training, incentives and punishments for maintenance of staff morale. A workable mechanism for sharing information between various intelligence agencies along the lines of the Department of Homeland Security in the US has been proposed, as well as a properly constituted National Security Council that submits recommendations to the prime minister.
It would be best if, for once, we did not put all our energy into producing a scapegoat to distract the nation from this depressingly consistent account of good old-fashioned incompetence and actually sat down to do some serious work as suggested by the Commission.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2013.
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