August Issue 2013
Reading the Fine Print
As Egypt’s General Abdul Fatah al-Sissi declared martial law in Egypt on July 3, 2013, many in Pakistan were quick to point out the difference between Pakistan and Egypt. Statements were made on social media about Pakistan’s maturity as compared to Egypt. But my concern is, why do we use military intervention as the only measure to determine how politically proactive armed forces are? Why must we forget that a putsch is just an indication of the frustration of the junta and not necessarily the only expression of a military’s desire and ability to manipulate state and society? Anyone reading the Abbottabad Commission Report, initially leaked on Al-Jazeera, would arrive at the conclusion that there are other ways to measure civil-military relations, and that in Pakistan’s case it is not as picture perfect as one would like to believe.
Many would read the report as an investigative piece searching for answers on how Osama bin Laden managed to live in a high security zone such as Abbottabad with his wives and children without being found out, and how the US launched its operation against Laden, almost undetected, inside Pakistan. The report fails to give any definitive answers about who was responsible for the breach of sovereignty by both the Al Qaeda leadership and the US. This is possibly because the report is actually an initial version written by one of the members of the commission, the former ambassador Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, and not the final draft. Allegedly, the final draft is a watered-down version with a note of dissent by Mr Qazi, in which he has also named names. Apparently, this is also one of the reasons that the final draft has not been made public. Although the Nawaz Sharif government is mulling over the idea of releasing the final report, it could also use this as a bargaining chip to perhaps negotiate with the military leadership.
However, if the government ultimately decides not to release the report it will not come as a surprise since Pakistan is not known to make public the findings of any inquiry commission. The Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report on the 1971 break-up of Pakistan was also leaked to the foreign press before it became public inside the country. Perhaps, there should also be a demand for an inquiry into why investigations undertaken with public money are hidden (one fears even that the report may never be disclosed).
The Abbottabad Commission Report has been the talking point for several weeks now. Most of the discussion has centred around the former ISI chief, Lt. General (retd) Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s rather derogatory remarks lambasting the political government for its failure to make the system work. Indeed, several officers testifying before the commission including the DG ISI and DG Military Intelligence (MI) have declared Pakistan’s system as being dysfunctional. In his testimony, General Pasha even declared the country to be a ‘failing,’ if not entirely a ‘failed,’ state. Others like the notorious Sharifuddin Pirzada were quick in declaring the report to be a sample of failed political governance.
But wading through the leaked version of the report, one wonders as to what this system is, which everyone testifying before the commission seems to complain about? What is the nature of dysfunctionality? And why was the system not working despite the fact that successive Pakistani governments have poured billions of rupees into the national security apparatus? No answers to such questions were attempted by the Commission, which only drew a picture of a problematic system without pinning the blame on any individual or group of people. Given that the Abbottabad Commission had access to all sorts of material and interviewed around 201 people, such omission is almost criminal. However, the fact that no names were named and the report merely suggested that neither OBL nor the Americans could be detected due to the dysfunctionality of the system, one wonders what in actuality, was the nature of this system.
We gather from the report that OBL had spent about nine years in Pakistan, dating back to his escape from Tora Bora in 2002. Since then, he lived in Swat, Haripur and, finally, Abbottabad. We also know that his wives travelled frequently and even stayed in Karachi and Quetta. Furthermore, other terrorists like the Indonesian bomber Umer Patek also came to visit him and was, in fact, caught from a house located a couple of miles away from OBL’s house in Abbottabad. However, no effort was made to see if there were other Al Qaeda leaders in the vicinity. In his testimony, the DG MI admits that no further effort was made to explore any other links mainly due to the fact that it was left to the bigger agency, the ISI, to track and locate Al Qaeda. The DG Intelligence Bureau (IB) makes a similar claim. But from General Pasha’s statement we know that his two counterparts in MI and IB are, at best, foolish in expecting the ISI to deliver because the organisation was extremely overburdened and hence unable to locate OBL. It was involved with the Afghan war in the 1980s and subsequently asked by the government to help post 9/11.
Furthermore, since no other institution in Pakistan works, the ISI had to do everything and thus was unable to deliver.
The bulk of the military, including the DGs MI and ISI, the Adjutant-General of the Army, the Air Chief and his Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Operations) are very upset with the Americans for hiding intelligence information from them. The report reveals that the US would occasionally talk to them to complain about OBL and Al Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan but it did not share any information. However, given the fact that the Americans suspected that Pakistan’s security establishment had moles within its ranks, why would they trust it with critical information? Reading this report against the backdrop of incidents such as the attacks on GHQ, PAC Kamra and Mehran Base Karachi one begins to wonder if the Commission is correct in pointing out the inefficiency of the system rather than any complicity. In fact, the assessment section of the report does complain about the agencies not properly investigating the Umer Patek case, which might have led them to OBL earlier than the Americans. The question is, can complicity be ruled out entirely?
In their testimonies, which are cited in the leaked report, all military officers complain about various organisations not delivering. For instance, the revenue department registered the sale deed for the land on which the house was built in the name of one of the two OBL aides (both Pushtoon) on a fake NIC. The fact that the NIC was actually not issued by NADRA was ignored because a lot of the tribal areas do not have this facility. Then, no one bothered to find out why there were four gas meters on the property. The four meters were installed so to avoid detection of the large number of people living in the house. Although the military tries to blame it on the negligence of the police, the latter were of the opinion that since the house where OBL lived fell in an area under the military’s jurisdiction, the IB, the CID and other police agencies had little interest in snooping around. The most telling part of the report relates to the testimonies of the police versus those of the Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, pertaining to the investigation after the American operation on May 2. Apparently, the police were told not to interfere, and the control of the place was taken over by the military. The first person to reach the house in Bilal Town was a local police official.
The above incident is critical in not only explaining why certain agencies of the state were more inefficient, but also how the civil-military relations imbalance translates into the inefficient performance of civilian agencies. The ‘inefficiency’ of the police and revenue officials in this particular instance has a definite explanation to it: these agencies would not interfere in the military’s sphere of influence anywhere in the country. Is it possible that people were stopped from snooping around so as to prevent them from accidentally discovering OBL in Abbottabad? (Reading this portion of the report, I was reminded of how police officials are stopped by officials from the military’s intelligence agencies whenever they try to probe into Jaish-e-Mohammad’s new, facility under construction on the main GT Road near Bahawalpur).
A greater mystery is how the US SEALS entered Pakistan undetected on May 2 and conducted an operation about which the air chief was informed by the army chief after almost a couple of hours. The question is: Why this delay? The air chief’s statement is disconcerting as it exposes problems of strategic planning within the armed forces.
According to the Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar, the military strategy is so focused on India that they never looked West. The PAF’s planning was never focused on countering the US. This is interesting, considering the fact that the PAF and the military in general have also engaged in a propaganda regarding their ability to shoot down American drones. But if they cannot counter conventional airships like helicopters or even detect them, how can one expect them to shoot down drones? Why was the PAF caught napping despite the fact that the US had violated Pakistan’s air space at least twice in 2008? Is this negligence just another reflection of their inefficiency or complicity with the US? According to Air Marshal (retd) Shahid Lateef, the PAF did pick up noises on the Afghan-Pak border on the evening of May 1. Although the air chief and DCAS denied this, we know that the PAF has a history of picking up noises and being silenced (by the army) as had happened during the Kargil operation.
One is tempted to return to the debate on whether the Abbottabad Commission report was deliberately leaked — and by whom? There are those who believe that the political government might have been behind it so as to put pressure on the military to discipline them. This is probable because currently there is a debate raging in Parliament about ‘Higher Defense Reorganisation.’ The last time such restructuring took place was in the 1990s, after the army’s defeat against India in the 1971 war. But then there are others who claim that the leak might have been encouraged by the military itself. The one possible explanation for this could be to make a case for inefficiency as opposed to complicity. Moreover, by leaking the report, the burden of the inefficiency could be shared with the civil bureaucracy and the government. But it is also possible that while the military had no role in leaking the report it might have tried to subsequently benefit from it because the report seems to push the inefficiency argument more than the theory about complicity. The argument that the military did not have a role in hiding OBL came on the foot of an earlier narrative pushed by the army through its intellectual conduits like Brig (retd) Shaukat Qadir, who, in 2012, had produced a book called ‘Operation Geranimo’ making a similar argument. In fact, he had built a story according to which OBL was compromised by one of his wives and that the Pakistan army had a hand in capturing the Al Qaeeda leader. What is the truth and whether there was an element of complicity in hiding or catching OBL are questions which probably could not have been answered by a commission too cautious about stepping on the military establishment’s toes. Reportedly, the first draft produced by the chairman of the commission was so lukewarm in its presentation that it was opposed by one of the members. It is also said that the military member of the commission was so mindful of his military norms that he went to receive the air chief as part of the military protocol despite that fact that his role as a member of the inquiry commission put him in a different role. The incident may be insignificant but it raises questions about the quality of inquiry and the results of the final report.
A journalist friend called me up within a week of the Abbottabad Commission report getting leaked. His question was: Will the government be able to now put a system in place to reduce the military’s sphere of influence and to make it more transparent so that another May 2 does not happen? Possibly not. Already, people within the parliamentary system are trying to avoid any further investigation of what really happened on May 2 and who was responsible for it. Known for his good relations with the security establishment, the Chairman of the Senate Committee for Defense, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, recently stated in one of the committee meetings that there should not be any finger-pointing, But the point is, how can the system be improved unless transparency is built into the decision-making process that helps trace who made an erroneous decision and how it was made. The fact that a declared terrorist, who was to be hunted down by Pakistan, US and other allies as part of the war on terror, lived in Pakistan for so long and that foreign forces sneaked into the country undetected and conducted a major operation to take him out, reeks of gross inefficiency that must not go unpunished.
According to the Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar, the military strategy is so focused on India that they never looked West. The PAF’s planning was never focused on countering the US. This is interesting, considering the fact that the PAF and the military in general have also engaged in propaganda regarding their ability to shoot down American drones. But if they cannot counter conventional airships like helicopters or even detect them, how can one expect them to shoot down drones?
Given the political government’s continuing distractions, the civil society’s divided emotions on how far to push the military, and the armed forces’ ability to turn the tide in its favour, one wonders if the system of decision-making on security issues will ever improve. It was just the other day that I happened to chat with a former army officer who was of the view that opinion within the army regarding its own sense of superiority and the need for civilians showing respect to their service chiefs and the services had not changed a bit. The average army officer may admit that something went wrong but would not tolerate the armed forces being questioned. Under the circumstances, an honest inquiry might never happen. Furthermore, the civilian government would have to be very intelligent in restructuring the security apparatus of the state in a way that they do not cross an imaginary redline which sets off the military into direct intervention. One wonders if the prime minister will be able to bring a change without a capable team around him dedicated to dealing with the security establishment. Unless there is accountability and transparency within the system, the imbalance in civil-military relations will continue and the all-powerful military will — like Caesar’s wife — remain above reproach.
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter
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