General Kayani is facing two problems, a smaller problem and a bigger problem. The smaller problem is external. The hypocrisy of the Pakistan army exposed by the discovery of Osama bin Laden living comfortably next to Pakistan’s Military Academy will now attract enormous flak from most of the world. The Pakistan army might survive that thanks to the tact being displayed by US authorities. The much bigger problem for the Pakistan army is internal. It has to explain to the hardcore elements in the military establishment and in civil society how and why the Americans could forcibly kill Osama inside Pakistan.
The sequence of the immediate events preceding the US operation is intriguing. Just a few days before the operation Prime Minister Gilani and General Kayani reportedly met with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and urged him to dump America and side with China. That was leaked to the media presumably by Afghan authorities. That was followed by an Afghan army incursion into Pakistan killing three Pakistani soldiers. That was followed by the ambush inside the heart of Pakistan by American operatives. The death of Osama inside Pakistan was followed by statements by Afghan leaders claiming that the real war against terror was required in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan.
The US authorities are at pains to stress that the ambush was entirely American outside the knowledge of the Pakistan army and without its assistance. The US version claims that a forty minute operation was carried out by US helicopters sixty miles from Islamabad next to the Pakistan Military Academy without Pakistan’s army being aware. US Counterterrorism chief John Brennan claimed that before the Pakistanis could get their airplanes to react the US had departed from Pakistani soil. Is this believable? Given the high risks resulting from a Pakistani reprisal would the US risk the ambush without ensuring that things remained under control? It is logical to conclude that either the Pakistan army itself or a section within it was in the loop. So, which was it?
That brings us to the question of how the US might have reacted to the exposure about General Kayani’s lobbying for the Chinese with President Karzai. Behind the curtain could the Americans have confronted General Kayani, twisted his arm, and obtained his compliance for the ambush? Alternatively, could the Americans have sidelined General Kayani and struck a deal with some other powerful segment inside the Pakistan army? That neither was done defies logic. The stakes were too high for the US to carry out the ambush without some assurance that things would not slip out of control.
Now it remains to be seen how General Kayani faces up to the bigger internal crisis that is most likely going to confront him. The question that will be asked sooner rather than later is: did General Kayani collude with the Americans or was he totally in the dark? If he colluded it will be dubbed as gross betrayal of Pakistan by the hardcore elements inside and outside the army and could lead to serious confrontation. If he was in the dark it would expose unacceptable incompetence having damaging implications for nuclear Pakistan’s future security.
The immediate future of General Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani needs to be watched closely. Significantly, while all the world leaders hailed Osama’s death there was only conspicuous silence in Beijing. Eventually Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu while hailing the death of Osama bin Laden countered global criticism of Pakistan by defending Islamabad against accusations that it did little to find the Al Qaeda leader. China, which signed an MOU with the Taliban government in the presence of Osama bin Laden on 9/11, 2001, was always the hidden patron of Pakistan army’s support to terrorists. The killing of Osama inside Pakistan is an embarrassment that may prove equally huge for Beijing as it is for Islamabad. It remains to be seen how the Chinese with their strong sense of self-preservation finally deal with the prospect of being the solitary supporters of a Pakistan pushed into the dog house.
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