As the days pass and the fog clears, the story of what happened on 1 May is starting to come out and it’s not looking great. The day after a group of American commandos crossed the border and killed Osama bin Laden who was living comfortably in the shadow of Kakul, the usual sources reported that hundreds of Pak Army men participated in the strike. Now we know that wasn’t the case at all. As the facts come out and we get the details of who knew what and when, we need to ask an honest questions not only about this one incident, but how our assumptions made it inevitable. These questions might be embarrassing, but let’s face it – we’re already embarrassed. We should seize this opportunity to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Ghairat brigade’s conspiracywallas are down to the bottom of the barrel with their saying that Osama wasn’t really killed and that the strike was a pretext to invade Islamabad. This habit of hiding from the obvious truth has gotten so bad that 66 per cent urban Pakistanis think Osama was not killed while 100 per cent al Qaeda admits Osama was killed that day. And if the US wanted to invade Islamabad, wouldn’t they have done this when Osama was here? Now that they took their man and left, it seems any pretext has left also. It’s time to give up the conspiracy theories and closing our eyes to uncomfortable truths and take a good hard look at how we got here.
First, we need to be honest with ourselves. If Osama is a pretext for invasion, who put that pretext in Pakistan? Who made Abbottabad such a place that terrorists feel it is a good place to openly hide from detection? Because, let’s be honest, if the world’s most wanted terrorist wasn’t living in our country, the Americans would never have had an excuse for coming in the first place. The military says it wants to reduce the American footprint in Pakistan. Good. But we’re never going to reduce the American footprint until we reduce the jihadi footprint also.
And don’t talk to me about Americans stealing our nuclear assets either. In case you haven’t heard, America has it’s own. It doesn’t need ours. The only concern any American has about our nuclear assets is concern that some Osama jihadi lunatic is going to steal them. We say that will never happen, but we also said that Osama would never be safe here either. If you want the Americans to stop eyeing our nuclear assets, get the jihadis to stop eyeing the same. As for our sovereignty, well, I don’t know why people are declaring the death of sovereignty in 2011 when Osama bin Laden killed it five years ago.
Second, we need to take an honest look at this intelligence failure. The Americans are suspicious of this excuse and with good reason. I got an email from a friend saying that ISI’s job is to monitor the borders only, so it’s not their job to know who is doing what inside the country. I laughed out loud. Are we so willing to lie to ourselves this boldly? If ISI is not supposed to monitor inside the country, someone better tell them that. So how did they miss the giant jihadi elephant in the room?
The line that officials appear to have settled on is that it was an intelligence failure. Just like the RAW intelligence failure that resulted in 26/11 and the US intelligence failure that resulted in 9/11. In the weeks after 9/11, US officials were targeted by envelopes containing anthrax. Ten years later, the case is still a mystery. So intelligence agencies are not perfect. In the words of an unnamed ISI official to BBC, “We’re good, but we’re not God”.
Though there is some truth to this – even the CIA admitted it was not 100 per cent certain he was there – such an answer hasn’t satisfied many people. As anyone will tell you, the ISI is pretty damned thorough. How does the world’s most wanted man hide in plain site? How bad does the intelligence have to be to miss this? Looking back, the answer may be as obvious as bin Laden’s hideout. ISI didn’t find bin Laden because they weren’t looking for him.
Najam Sethi says that according to his research, the ISI arrangement with CIA was to allow the Americans to monitor Al-Qaeda while we focused on TTP and RAW. Which makes sense – isn’t this what the US has been complaining about with their ‘do more’ mantra? That we’re not focusing attention on the bigger problem of jihadis and only taking on the ones that attack us directly so we can build yet another Hatf? Our response back has consistently been that we have our own priorities.
Was it mere coincidence that when ISPR finally released a statement days later, the statement warned India?
The Forum, taking serious note of the assertions made by Indian military leadership about conducting similar operations, made it very clear that any misadventure of this kind will be responded to very strongly. There should be no doubt about it.
The Americans are baffled by claims that the military and intelligence agencies had no idea Osama was in Abbottabad. How could this be? How could it be possible that Osama was living in Abbottabad for five years and the military did not know? Perhaps the intelligence agencies didn’t find him because the intelligence agencies were not looking for him. Not even thinking about him. Instead, our intelligence has been focused like laser beams on India. We haven’t been looking for al Qaeda militants because we’re not concerned about al Qaeda militants. We’re looking under every rock and in every shadow for RAW agents.
Of course, not looking for Osama doesn’t mean that he was supported. It just means that he wasn’t a priority. And to the establishment, Osama has never been a priority. The only priority in their narrowly focused view has been India. Is it any coincidence that while ISPR was issuing this clear warning to India, militants plotted another attack on innocents in Quetta? Which Hatf is supposed to stop militants?
Gen Kayani has ordered a full investigation into the intelligence failure that allowed the world’s most wanted terrorist to live for five years under the very noses of the military. This is the right response, but the question must go deeper than simply looking for a scapegoat.
Sacking a general is not going solve the problem so long as retired generals are running around preaching jihadi ideologies to the masses. Once the Americans discovered that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan, nobody was going to keep the Americans out. We need to be less worried about who was on guard when the Americans stormed in – we need to be asking who let Osama in the gate in the first place.