May 2nd, 2011 could have been a turning point for Pakistan. The discovery of Osama Bin Laden close to a premier military training establishment in the country was an opportunity to review intelligence and security, renew focus on counter terrorism and constrict the socio-political space for fundamentalists and extremists. While there were many voices in the country questioning the overall credibility of the counter terrorism campaign and the military and intelligence establishment, but these were drowned by rallies supporting these organizations which some say were clearly managed affairs. Once again this has proved to be a lost opportunity as the Pakistan National Assembly and Joint Parliamentary Session turned focus more on violation of sovereignty by the United States by unilaterally striking in Abbottabad.
The key to any transformation in Pakistan is acceptance of the Army and the ISI of countering terrorism in letter and spirit rather than going in for double game.
What about the loss of sovereignty to Osama Bin Laden, the World’s most dangerous terrorist leader, a Saudi citizen and his many cohorts? What about the hundreds of global terrorists ensconced in the tribal areas coming from Central Asia, Chechnya, Yemen and other parts of the World? None of these questions have received any notice in the parliament. The parliamentarians in fact seems to have given a carte blanche to these groups by questioning US drone attacks and calling for a stop to these forthwith even threatening to “consider taking necessary steps including withdrawal of transit facility allowed to NATO/ISAF forces”. In response the military also announced cancellation of the visit of General Khalid Shameem Wynne, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the United States. There is no doubt that the drone attacks are uncalled for but have been possibly forced on the US due to lack of effective Pakistani action on the ground against the terrorist groups in the tribal areas. The necessity will possibly go away if Islamabad launches operations there.
With the government as well as the Army and the ISI for the first time in the same boat and facing ire of the opposition and the people there was joint defence of the Abottabad mishap. The Army and the ISI are in particularly being blamed for a policy of connivance cum incompetence which is no doubt hurting the Army Chief General Kiyani in person having been head of the ISI some years ago.
The defence followed a familiar line with an in camera briefing planned by the Army to the National Assembly and Joint Parliament session where it won over lost prestige in the eyes of the parliamentarians. This had been the case previously as well and there has been precedence with the possibility of the parliamentarians even endorsing the Army at that time. Thus as anticipated the Pakistan Joint parliamentary sitting placed the entire Abottabad incident of killing of Osama Bin Laden in perspective of Pakistan’s sovereignty rather than another step in the global war on terror.
This significant difference in perception in Pakistan vis a vis other countries including the US, India and EU nation states does not provide much hope of progress in the campaign against terror in the region. While the session called for a review of engagement with the United States in national interest there was no call for renewed drive against terrorism in the country or to the Army and the ISI to take on the challenge thereby a very good opportunity to make a shift in policy from being seen as the supporter of terrorism to that of joining the global war on terror has been lost. It may be back to the old games of staving off the outside pressures while continuing to assist terror groups seen as favourable to the country’s interests.
The main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) Chief Mr. Nawaz Sharif is pressing home his own agenda of pulling down the army and the ISI, but it is apparent that this opportunity is also likely to be lost as the other parties have not whole heartedly supported this move so far. He is demanding an independent commission over the incident and if formed could be a major success for the PML N.
Meanwhile timing with the parliament session the Taliban attacked the Frontier Constabulary which is the main paramilitary police force deployed in terrorist-infested areas as Khyber Pakhtunwa and on the border with Afghanistan. The attack is significant as the Taliban has targeted new recruits most of them Pashtuns. The message was therefore as much to the government as to the poor youth who had hopes of a future in the security forces.
The key to any transformation in Pakistan is acceptance of the Army and the ISI of countering terrorism in letter and spirit rather than going in for double game. Unless this comes about and there are no signs that this is happening there is unlikely to be any shift in the overall counter terrorism battle in Af Pak. Ironically with China and in some ways Russia supporting Pakistan over the Abottabad incident there is unlikely to be much pressure on the Pakistan government and the Army to shift gears and the United States may have to plough a lonely furrow in the year ahead.