The Pakistan Military Establishment: Whose Fault is it Anyway?

As the dust settles in Abbottabad, the question is, was it incompetence or delusion by the Pakistani security services?

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US-Pakistani military co-operation is under question
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Ayesha Siddique
On 5 May 2011 10:41

The dust has settled on the military operation and targeted strike that was used to “take out” Bin Laden in Abbottabad. Questions around the operation itself, how it was carried out, who was in charge and what happened have been addressed in substantial detail. However the bigger and far more strategically important question still festers on unanswered: were the Pakistani military establishment aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts all along?

I have been receiving emails and messages from friends and acquaintances since Bin Laden’s death was announced – asking whether “Pakistan knew all along” – because as a Pakistani citizen and someone who researches security in the region, surely I must have more answers than they do.

But unfortunately, as unsatisfying and incomplete as the saga of Bin Laden, his life in hiding and his death might feel with this missing piece of the puzzle, the fact remains we might never have an answer to how much did the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency of Pakistan really knew. It does however, seem obvious to me that it would be one of two scenarios.

Scenario one, that I would like to call the incompetence scenario is one of the Pakistani establishment being clueless of the fact that Bin Laden was living a short drive out of Islamabad. This view has been opposed by many of the recent opinion pieces we’ve seen in Western media over the past few days. 

It is also denied by my Pakistani friends, members of Pakistan’s educated elite, based in either Islamabad or Karachi. For most “informed” Pakistanis the very idea that the ISI or the top brass of the army is so out of control of the militancy and security situation in Pakistan that they were unaware of Bin Laden’s hideout is just unfathomable. I believe that while this scenario has a lower probability it is still very possible.           

Both Western commentators and Pakistan’s brainwashed elite give the ISI and the top tier of the Pakistan army too much credit. It is well within the realm of possibility that Bin Laden lived in Abbottabad for years without the being detected by the establishment in Pakistan. The military in Pakistan has effectively demonstrated their grip on the security situation in Pakistan.

Militant groups including the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qaeda have attacked key Pakistan military installations in increased frequency especially since the Pakistan army operations in Swat and South Waziristan. In fact the attack on a mosque in Rawalpindi (also a garrison town) located minutes away from the Pakistan army’s General Headquarters in December 2009, illustrates all too well the sheer incompetence, failure of intelligence and lack of management and control prevalent in the Pakistani military’s top brass.

It’s time to call a spade a spade and not hide behind euphemisms like “lack of capacity” and “stretched to the limit”. The Pakistani military establishment is capable of being highly incompetent and ultimately completely unaware that Bin Laden was living in Abbottabad all these years.

The second scenario, let’s call this the delusional scenario is the more likely possibility. Top officials of the military establishment were aware that Bin Laden was living in Pakistan and they made the choice to either look the other way or protect him, believing, that in so doing they could maintain some kind of peace with Al-Qaeda and its allies operating in Pakistan. 

The Pakistani government’s official statements and response to the events of May 2nd emphasize repeatedly how they were “not a part of US operation”.  This implies to me that it is more a case of maintaining the delusion of some kind of peace with militant organisations than simply being naive about the level of the threat posed by them.

The Pakistani official response has been to admit incompetence and of course play the standard victim card, as is evident by President Zardari’s op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this week. They offer the existential threat that the state in Pakistan faces from terrorism and militant groups operating within its borders, as some kind an excuse for incompetence.

Therein lies the root of Pakistan’s grave problems: its failure to take responsibility for its actions and its creations. Regardless of whether the incompetence scenario or the delusional scenario ends up being true, the military establishment and the civilian government is responsible for the colossal failure of the state apparatus to do its job.

I am still waiting, both as a Pakistani citizen and as a global resident to hear who within the Pakistani establishment is accepting responsibility for the failures, who is tendering their resignations and who is willing to offer an explanation. A credible, believable explanation to a people who have suffered so much. But rather unfortunately – I have also learnt as a Pakistani citizen, not to hold my breath.

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