It has been over a week since news broke that Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. operation in Abbottabad, and developments are still unfolding, tensions are still building, and we still are not quite sure what the hell is really going on.
On Monday, our illustrious PM Yousaf Raza Gilani made a speech before the Pakistani Parliament, strongly rejecting allegations of Pakistan’s complicity in hiding Osama bin Laden or incompetence in tracking him down. On the topic of what went wrong, Gilani did admit that there had been an intelligence failure, but refused to take sole responsibility, instead noting, “It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world.”
Good deflection, Jadoogar.
Gilani also used the speech as an opportunity to highlight the U.S. violation of Pakistani sovereignty, saying Pakistanis are “rightly incensed” about the covert U.S. operation on the country’s soil. He emphasized,
Abbottabad hosts a routine Military training institution, which does not require any elaborate special defence arrangement. There is no denying the US technological ability to evade our radars. We regret that this unilateral action was undertaken without our concurrence.
In several interviews post-raid, former President Pervez Musharraf came out as one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. operation, also calling it a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
But on May 9, the Guardian’s Declan Walsh reported that the U.S. and Pakistan had struck a deal in 2001 permitting a U.S. operation on Pakistani soil to go after Osama bin Laden. Walsh noted,
Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Al Qaeda No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.
A former senior U.S. official told the Guardian, “There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him. The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.”
Mushy! You got some ‘splaining to do!
Not surprisingly, Musharraf doth protested such reports. In an interview Wednesday, he told ABC News, “Never! And this is the assertion being cast by the Guardian and I rejected that. I condemn such an insinuation. There was no such deal.”
Interestingly, though, the Guardian wasn’t the only outlet to “cast such an assertion.” In the Friday Times last week, Ali Chishti alluded to something similar, when he quoted former intelligence chief Shah Mahboob Alam who also said, “The U.S. initiated a unilateral action based on an understanding with Pakistan from years ago.”
On Wednesday, Reuters cited more sources – current and former U.S. officials – who further said “the message that the United States would dispatch forces to go after bin Laden if it found him in Pakistan was repeatedly passed on to Pakistani authorities so that, at a minimum, Islamabad should have had no illusions about the U.S. position.”
So, deal or no deal?
It is no secret that Bush and Musharraf had a close relationship post-9/11 attacks. In a joint statement between the two leaders in November 2001, they reaffirmed “the strength and vitality of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Pakistan,” with Musharraf welcoming Bush’s decision “to lift a number of economic sanctions that would allow for the resumption of cooperation with Pakistan.”
Unless Musharraf suddenly changes tact and admits to a deal (not likely) we really won’t be sure of anything, particularly if the “understanding” that was met was never put in writing. Nevertheless, given the U.S.-Pakistan history of covert deals (hello, drone strike policy), struck so that the U.S. can achieve their interests and the Pakistan state can pretend like they don’t know that we know, we can at least be justifiably suspicious.
The significant part of the deal-or-no-deal debate though, is how it has shifted our attention away from what’s really important; i.e., how the Pakistani military and our intelligence agencies either managed to allow one of the biggest intelligence failures to happen, or worse yet, how they managed to keep OBL hidden as their strategic interest for so long [read Shahid Saeed's piece at Dawn for words of wisdom as well as Chris Fair's piece for the AfPak Channel]. Forget holding the Pakistani military and ISI accountable to the Americans – hold them accountable to us, the Pakistani citizens, who bore the brunt of these misgivings.
As a nation, we often point fingers outwards instead of at ourselves. Conspiracy theories reign supreme. Political pot shots to garner votes and popularity are the norm. And amidst this circus, no one seems to give a damn about anyone but themselves. Pray tell, how can we hope for any progress if accountability is never even part of the vernacular?