By Ikram Sehgal
May 19, 2011
Adored by the Pakistani masses, the armed forces faced widespread public outcry and humiliation over (1) Osama bin Laden’s presence for nearly six years near a supposedly secure area in Pakistan, and (2) their failure to interdict the heliborne US raiding party. The military hierarchy did the correct thing by presenting themselves in a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate for hostile questioning by the “elected” representatives riding the crest of aroused public opinion. The inquisitors were beside themselves, relishing the opportunity not only for political grandstanding but also to subject the uniform to public humiliation. Friday, May 13, 2011, was billed by the politicians as the day that the Pakistani army would be brought to heel permanently by being held “accountable to the nation.”
The director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, took the hot seat on behalf of the military. In the circumstances, he acquitted himself well beyond expectations. Instead of trying to defend the impossible, Gen Pasha nonplussed the attacking wolf pack right at the outset by acknowledging that mistakes had been made and, accepting full responsibility, he offered to resign. One does not remember any other senior military officer, except incidentally for the much vilified Gen Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan (in his affidavit before the Hamoodur Rahman Commission), to have ever accepted responsibility and subjected himself voluntarily to accountability. Shuja Pasha did both. In doing so, he did himself proud. More importantly, he made all soldiers, serving and retired, proud of the uniform. Shuja Pasha managed to redeem the respect of the army. Except for those who have motivation and vested interest in being detractors, a 180º turnaround was apparent soon after details of the joint session filtered out. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the politicians’ aspirations for the demise and eclipse of the Pakistani army and the ISI were greatly diminished. Contrary to the crafted political script, the military remains a potent force in Pakistan’s political life.
A reality check in the cold light of reason: No doubt it was a massive intelligence failure. However, the blame must be somewhat equally apportioned between the civilian and military establishments. Civilian neighbourhoods fall under the domain of the civil administration, comprising also, but not limited to, municipalities, union councils, police stations, etc. The house in which Osama bin Laden was is not in the cantonment area, as is the widely held public perception, but a civilian residential area under the purview of the local police station (thana). The station house officer (SHO) of every thana has a number of undercover agents whose job it is to mingle with the population and check out the neighbourhood for anything that could potentially affect law and order. People from outside purchasing and/or renting out premises are particularly screened. The job description of the federally-controlled Intelligence Bureau (IB) is also to ferret out terrorists. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, on its part, failed to spot the alien visitors, as did the Special Branch and the Anti-Violent Crime Units.
Did the inmates of the three-storey villa pay taxes? And this is not only income tax but a whole range of local government and municipal taxes. Were this house and its inmates ever subjected to “house-to-house census” scrutiny? It is not uncommon for rich rural citizens in Pakistan to have houses in towns and cities in proximity to the villages where they own farmland. Similarly, overseas Pakistanis also own property in affluent urban areas. Many outsiders have residences for use during the summer season in areas like Abbottabad where the weather is less warm. While Bin Laden’s need for periodical kidney dialysis may or may not be true, what about normal consultation by a physician and the medication for the inmates of the house, including several women and many children? Did they never fall sick?
Where did they get the National Identification Cards (NIC) for obtaining and maintaining water, gas and electricity connections, including even acquiring mobile phones? Contrary to media reports about his “luxurious” mansion, the Bin Laden home was not in mint condition. What about periodical repairs and maintenance? The huge failure across-the-board has been conveniently dumped upon the army. Why are a whole range of members of the civilian bureaucracy not being held accountable and/or accepting responsibility? And what about the politicians of the area? How come they never sought votes from the inhabitants of the nearly secluded villa?
There was a “reverse swing” to the parliamentary inquisition, Contrary to the well-planned humiliation of the uniform, the “elected” members, albeit with 44 percent bogus votes, found soon after the joint session that they were not in sync with those (the 56 percent genuine voters) they “represented.” The Pakistani populace may have been demoralised and disappointed because of May 2, but they still believe in their soldiers.
The frustration displayed by Mian Nawaz Sharif was more pathetic. He declared India was not an “enemy.” To me it is shocking that he allowed his anger against Musharraf and his cronies to overcome his patriotism. In trying to fan animosity against the army, he has stooped to a new political low. Mian Sahib probably thinks that the 80 percent of the Indian armed forces (four times our strength), located and/or deployed near our borders, are there for sightseeing! This popular leader is increasingly out of sync with reality, and his hatred has warped his rational thinking. Any sane, peace-loving citizen of South Asia would certainly like to have India as a friend. However, it will take some doing to “cold start” our sworn enemy somehow into a friend.
Let us give credit to the Americans. Violating the sovereignty of an “allied” country, their elite commandos risked a fire fight in a violent raid deep in our heartland, not counting the possibility of a skirmish with combat aircraft positioned overhead in Pakistani airspace to interdict the scrambling of PAF interceptors. Single-mindedly they did what they had to in order to accomplish their stated objective. That is the exact model Pakistan must emulate. To achieve one’s national interest there must be a no-holds-barred attitude, taking calculated risk, including even violating international laws at will to ensure (and justify) that the intent and objectives of the nation are always paramount, no matter what the consequences.
The Pakistani army and the ISI are crucial to the nation’s existence. Those who want to harm us must first target them successfully. The post-May 2 humiliation of our defence establishment led to mass anger and depression, and this was jumped upon by Pakistan’s enemies. Unfortunately, they were joined by a section of our elite who should know better. Instead of defending the nation, the military was forced into the most unusual position of having to defend itself from the nation. Thankfully, vilification of our soldiers remains unacceptable to the broad mass of the populace, who well know that if we are to survive as an independent entity, the uniform remains the only real guarantors of our freedom.
Source: The News, Pakistan