The report of a judicial commission investigating the life and times of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden while he hid in Pakistan criticizes the country’s powerful security establishment as well as the former civilian government.
Among many of the report’s findings, published in part on Monday morning in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper and later by Al Jazeera, is that the government was “negligent and complacent” in dealing with both Mr. bin Laden’s existence in Pakistan and the subsequent raid by a US Navy SEAL team. The judicial commission also said that the fact that a foreign intelligence network – the American CIA – had tracked down the Al Qaeda leader was “a case of nothing less than a collective and sustained dereliction of duty by the political, military, and intelligence leadership of the country.”
While the report painted a picture of wide-ranging incompetence across Pakistan’s leadership, it significantly did not rule out the possibility of another explanation: that bin Laden was perhaps residing in Pakistan with support from current or former members of the government, military, and intelligence services. However, the commission said it could not find any conclusive evidence of such collusion with the Al Qaeda mastermind.
The report also underscores the civil-military imbalance that exists in Pakistan, and goes on to urge an end to the subservience of civilian leaders to the generals. The commission included a retired general among other prominent personalities, lending some weight to what is still a controversial stance here.
According to the leaked document, the last person to be informed about the raid was President Asif Ali Zardari, who is technically head of the armed forces. But the Pakistani military has long wielded considerable supremacy over the civilian government, and the previous Pakistan Peoples Party government (2008-2013) was no exception.
The then-chief of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), gave scathing testimony to the commission regarding the government. The commission has recommended that defense and security policies be developed and implemented under civilian control, and calls “any deviation from the principle of civilian control” an act of treason. It is also fairly critical of the military’s ideology – circa 2000 – of revising and redefining its role.
Similar calls were made in the immediate in the days following the May 2011 raid, culminating in a closed-door briefing to legislators by the military and intelligence services that featured sharp retorts and questioning. Whether the release of the report will invoke the same sentiments of that era is hard to ascertain. The report – unlike other leaked documents – did not feature extensively on the prime time 9 p.m. news.
Still, retired Gen. Talat Masood told the Monitor that “the criticism [of the raid] has already taken place in a big way.”
“There is a great understanding of the imbalance that exists. It is part of Pakistan’s national life. Pakistan has been suffering the ill-effects and the consequences of this for years. The incompetence of both [the civilian government and the military] is also so evident,” he says. “It is not just a question of how the Americans intruded – it was always a friendly border, but given the border skirmishes that have taken place recently between Afghanistan and Pakistan, they should look in that direction – but that Osama bin Laden was living there.”
General Masood notes that after the May 2 raid, he made the point that then-intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha should resign – “the buck always stops at the top” – which riled the military establishment. Mr. Pasha told the commission that critics had become “emotional and unbalanced” in their criticism of the “core institutions” of the state. The ISI, Pasha said, was the “first line of national defense”. He also claimed that the CIA’s main agenda was to have the ISI declared a “terrorist organization.”
Masood also said that the leak of the report would have a “short life” in Pakistan. “Pakistan has too many challenges. Pakistanis are inoculated against such – they live with the weaknesses of the state.”
He declined to speculate on who could have released the report, but noted that the leak would help the current Nawaz Sharif-led government to strengthen its position. “This government has nothing to lose and a lot to gain,” Masood says. “It wants to improve matters vis-à-vis the military; the previous government was scared and wouldn’t assert itself.”