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Scrambled Marching Orders In Pakistan


Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (left) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) director general, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, during a meeting in Islamabad in 2008

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (left) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) director general, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, during a meeting in Islamabad in 2008

Declan Walsh's report that the United States and Pakistan had struck a deal in 2001 regarding potential U.S. action against Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has taken off.

After reading the article, I agree with Mr. Walsh only to the extent that there may have been some agreement on U.S. ground operations in Pakistan in case bin Laden was located. But it is very unlikely that something like what happened on May 2 would have been covered in the original deal. There are several reasons for this.

First, if there was in fact a deal in place, the Pakistani army almost surely would have opted to have the U.S. kill bin Laden in a tribal area, not 800 meters from its most prestigious military academy in a posh suburb of Islamabad.

Second, the Pakistani army is so image-conscious that it couldn't possibly have known about, much less sanctioned, such an operation. The blow to the army's self-projected "hero" image to the public would be devastating. From its lost wars with India to its most recent failings in Swat, Waziristan, Mohmand, Khyber, and Bajaur, the army could not afford to add "probably harbored the most-wanted man in the history of the world" to the list.

By any measure, the May 2 operation is a disaster for the security establishment. If it knew nothing of the attack on the bin Laden compound, it looks stupid; if it did know, it looks complicit in the U.S. infringement on its sovereignty.

For a decade, the Pakistani security establishment has received billions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. that is contingent on prolonged war in Afghanistan. In this scenario, bin Laden should be seen as being a sort of hen that lays golden eggs for Pakistan's security establishment, guaranteeing (to a degree) the continued influx of U.S. aid, allowing for a continued buildup to counter India.

What is most interesting is how the army and intelligence service, the ISI, appears to be using civilian governments as rubber stamps for the country's key foreign policy issues -- toward India, Afghanistan, and the United States -- and taking shelter behind the same civilian leaders, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, to avoid shame. Gilani's speech to parliament -- in English -- was quite clearly a reflection of what the army and the ISI wanted to be said.

It's almost inevitable that in the coming days and weeks we will hear how the Zardari government was responsible for the May 2 assault for having let U.S. forces inside Pakistan and how the army is a group of humble soldiers following the directives of their civilian leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It seems that the outings of two CIA station chiefs (one of them accurate), the recent uproar over the Raymond Davis case, and critical public statements about U.S. drone strikes show how concerned the ISI really was with the robust CIA presence in Pakistan.

Pakistan has taken advantage of the confusion it created around bin Laden, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, and its nuclear arsenal. Now that it is fully trapped, it is again trying to sow confusion.

-- Daud Khattak
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