Reading through the leaked draft of the Abbottabad Commission report, one wonders why Pakistan is keeping Dr Shakil Afridi in jail when he could also be given the benefit of doubt of a non-performing system. Allegedly, one of the many drafts prepared by one of the four members of the Commission, the draft is rich in testimonies of various important people possibly involved with the May 2 American raid on the Abbottabad house where Osama bin Laden lived. There are two key issues that the commission sought to investigate: a) how did Osama bin Laden live in Pakistan and b) how did the US violate Pakistan’s airspace and conduct its mission.
There are certainly no clear answers as to who was responsible for both the above mentioned acts but we now know that Osama was indeed living in Pakistan. The report will certainly answer the speculation and rumours that Bin Laden was already dead and that the US operation was undertaken just to malign Pakistan. There is a lot of heartburn visible in many of the testimonies regarding the US not taking Pakistan into confidence. But in hindsight, who would confide in the Pakistani authorities if the system is so dysfunctional that each one of the civil or military bureaucrat testifying before the commission complains about it? The director general of Military Intelligence warns the commission that things could go really bad if the system were to continue to remain this dysfunctional. To cut a long story short, the dysfunctionality is there mainly because at the end of the day, no one is doing their work since those who are more powerful, use their authority and create a pool of inefficiency that is visible to the general public’s naked eye.
In fact, the inefficiency also seems to have crept into the Commission, which despite all the access, could not hold anyone responsible for what happened on May 2 and before. We are now all supposed to clap to the fact that it could pinpoint the inefficiency of the decision-making system, particularly pertaining to national security. But then, it doesn’t take 160 testimonies and hundreds of hours at state expense to figure that out. The national security decision-making structure that was in place in around 1976 collapsed the minute General Ziaul Haq took over in 1977. The first institution to suffer was the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, which was supposed to represent the three services and do joint planning, but was made ineffective because the army chief was also the president with little interest in sharing power. The organisation was further stabbed to death during the Musharraf years when it was even debated whether to scrap it since the army found little or no use for it.
But referring to the commission’s report, perhaps, it might have been able to conclude something if it could have access to the army chief, the president and the prime minister. These three main characters of the May 2 drama never testified before the commission. At least, greater light might have been thrown on the kind of arrangements we have with the US that forced the armed forces in general to look the other way as the American SEALs did their operation in Abbottabad.
This brings me back to the initial question that why jail Shakil Afridi just because he confessed to being paid by the CIA through USAID. Reading the report, it does not appear that he was instrumental in finding Bin Laden. He was, however, one of the many people hired by the CIA to comb the area. Has anyone even assessed after May 2 as to how many government functionaries are directly or indirectly (through family members and friends) on the CIA/USAID payroll? Probably, Afridi was not betraying his country but making a few bucks in a place where he saw everyone on the take. It is certainly irresponsible to hold him responsible for the errors of omission or commission done deliberately or inadvertently. Afridi’s sin is certainly much less than that of the other more senior state functionaries, especially those tasked with protecting and monitoring Pakistan’s airspace in that they were not able to detect at all at least four US helicopters flying inside Pakistani territory for almost three hours. The only excuse that the air chief could offer was that he was so focused on the Indian threat that he didn’t think of the western border. This is despite the fact that there were at least a couple of violations of Pakistan’s airspace by US aircraft in 2008. Is it not just plain inefficiency that it took the PAF over an hour and thirty minutes to know that there had been intrusion inside Pakistan’s airspace?
Notwithstanding the not-entirely-accurate claim made by the air chief regarding defence policy being made by the Ministry of Defence, the fact is that the responsibility of not providing security at that critical time lay with him as it did with a number of senior officers who sat silently while the US carried out its operation. Although the focus of the debate after the leaked report is to put the burden on civilian leaders, it makes sense to ask the men in uniform about their inefficiencies. Is it just because civilian leaders are too lazy and do not read books, etc. that we had a situation where the PAF higher command did not take note of the presence of a superpower in the neighbourhood? Although the air chief claims they didn’t detect the incursion, he is strongly contradicted by Air Marshal (retired) Shahid Latif who talks about the PAF hearing signs of some activity on the AfPak border. Or is it that the PAF was told to shut up as had happened in Kargil when they heard some noises in the north?
Not to forget the mother of all questions: was Shakil Afridi the only one playing ball with the US?
It is said that the government wants to now set up a commission to investigate the leak. I think it is time they investigated why the commission did not affix responsibility on people for not doing their duty. It is important to observe the decision-making trail and name those who put the country at risk by accommodating Bin Laden and allowing Americans to intrude. Without those details, the report is not worth the paper it is written on.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.