june issue 2011

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 13 years ago

NL_cover06-11Is the government really serious about investigating the presence of Osama bin Laden, his three wives and many children in Abbottabad, a garrison town, without being detected by the army or intelligence agencies for five years?

From the manner in which the commission it had set up disintegrated even before it began its probe, it appears not. Three of its members had not even been informed about their inclusion. The fourth was confined to a hospital with a cardiac problem, while the fifth said his boss had not been consulted about his appointment. It is also being insinuated that at least three names on the commission were suggested by the army, which makes the whole exercise appear token, if not altogether farcical.

Why is the government dragging its feet and approaching the whole issue so gingerly when there are vociferous demands from both the public and the opposition to hold the armed forces accountable for their sins of omission and commission? It is no secret that all political governments, past and present, have been extremely unhappy with the manner in which the army has conducted business, destabilised and dislodged governments, dictated foreign policy and entrenched itself in the corridors of power when it should have been guarding our borders.

This was the time to look the army in the eye and let them know who is really the boss. But by adopting the line of least resistance, the government has weakened its own position even further, if that were possible.

Why, it has even allowed the navy to conduct its own investigation into the PNS Mehran base attack. In his first press briefing, the naval chief is reported to have remarked that there was no security lapse. Six militants managed to comfortably negotiate barbed wire, avoid detection by security cameras and one would have imagined a fool-proof security apparatus, destroyed two P-3C Orions, killed 10 navy personnel and took on the entire navy might. Yet the chief has the temerity to state no security breach occurred.

If high-security zones like the PNS Mehran base and the GHQ are not safe, people are demanding to know how secure our nuclear assets are, especially given that there are alarming indications that sleeper cells of Al-Qaeda are proliferating in the armed forces.

A reporter, Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was investigating the nexus between the militants and jihadist elements in the forces was tortured to death. Fingers are being pointed at the ISI, which has in the past used similar tactics on other journalists to silence them into submission. Given its track record, the ISI will have to do better than simply deny its involvement.

And this time round, the government, civil society, and the media will have to band together to demand accountability and punishment for the perpetrators of this horrific crime. Failing this, the voices of sanity and reason could be silenced forever.

The June 2011 issue of Newsline is available at bookstores and news sellers across Pakistan. Get your copy today.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.