Accessibility links

It's Going To Be A Long Week For Pakistan

A Pakistani Islamist holds a poster of Osama bin Laden during a protest on the outskirts of Quetta

A Pakistani Islamist holds a poster of Osama bin Laden during a protest on the outskirts of Quetta

Pakistan's civilian and military leadership is in crisis in the wake of the U.S. special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden, with more voices calling for the resignations of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and the man widely considered to be the country's most powerful man, army chief Parvez Kayani.

At a news conference in Lahore on May 7, former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the president, prime minister, and the army leadership should resign following the U.S. operation in Abbottabad. Qureshi was flanked by Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the main opposition in the Pakistani parliament, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).

Both men strongly criticized the civilian government, the army, and the country's intelligence service, the ISI, for their collective failure to defend the country's sovereignty against foreign attack.

Similar feelings were expressed against the army and civilian leadership during the few protests that were held by religious parties in the aftermath of the bin Laden killing in the cities of Quetta, Peshawar, and Abbottabad.

In his immediate reaction to the May 2 operation, Gilani termed it "a great victory." However, this was the first and last such statement from the prime minister's office.

The Pakistani Army is considered to be in charge of affairs behind the scenes, rarely giving the civilian leadership a chance to weigh in meaningfully on matters of crucial national interests, like policy towards Afghanistan, the U.S., and India, as well as the country's nuclear program. Many believe Gilani might have received some "advice" from the army to watch his statements carefully.

Now, in the Pakistani capital, the civilian government is expected to release a statement in the National Assembly today.

The Senate of Pakistan is already in session while the National Assembly will resume its session today following eight days of recess.

There have also been reports that ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha has been "called" to the United States by his CIA counterparts, and may already be on his way there.

Whatever the final consequences for the army and political leadership, this is the first time that the people of Pakistan, even the pro-Army religious parties -- with the exception of Imran Khan -- are openly taking shots at the army.

Public and political opinion had been turning against the security forces for some time, but the May 2 incident provided a chance to many who had been unable or willing to speak their minds before.

It looks as though, for now, the army and the political leadership (civilian government) are trying to be on the same page over the Abbottabad operation, but rest assured it will be the civilian government that will be sacrificed on the altar of Pakistan's Strategic Asset policy should the situation spiral further out of control.

The army leadership, as is always the case, will shift the blame on to the civilian leadership hoping to come out unscathed. However, glancing at the Pakistani and international media, it seems that time is slipping out of the hands of the army leadership now as it finds itself in an impossible situation. The army can't tell the people of Pakistan that it did not know about the presence of bin Laden in Abbottabad. Nor can it say it knew. It also can't admit either way that it knew or didn't know about the U.S. helicopters landing there, completing a 40-minute operation, and leaving with bin Laden's body.

In this situation, even the once-staunchest supporters of the Pakistan Army are now questioning its role and conveying the message that "enough is enough."

One possible outcome, apart from internal consequences for the civilian government, is that the incident stokes widespread resentment among rank-and-file soldiers of the army -- both from liberals who want to eliminate militants and now are concerned about the dented image of the army and among others who have a soft spot for "strategic depth" and who are angered by the May 2 operation.

So basically, everything in Pakistan is as clear as mud right now.

-- Daud Khattak