The U.S. lawmakers’ and population’s response to the Osama killing put both Islamabad and Rawalpindi—at least those who tacitly approved the operation, prior to it or later—on the defensive. On the surface, both Islamabad and Rawalpindi expressed a great deal of embarrassment—for “not knowing that Osama, the prime terrorist, was living in the midst of the Pakistani security establishment”—and upset over “the unilateral action by the United States to carry out assassination” of the terrorist who was living under the shade of Pakistani security.
Pakistan does not have a tradition of public acceptance of responsibility, and the army has not engaged in the kind of “lessons learned” exercises familiar elsewhere.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the Pakistan parliament that the government’s investigation of the 2 May raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad would be conducted by a military commission headed by a three-star army general. Those who expected that the disgrace of the Pakistani military would lead Pakistan’s civilian government to take control of the reins and do the investigation themselves were disappointed. But it proved the point that despite the embarrassment, and what seemed at least briefly a possibility for the civilian leadership to assert itself, Pakistan military’s clout has not weakened and the civilian government still has no capability to call the shots.
Since then, the Pakistani parliament has passed a resolution calling on the government to appoint an independent commission on the Abbottabad operation. Its mandate is to fix responsibility and recommend necessary measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur. A U.S.-based Pakistan expert, Howard B. Schaffer, wrote in his 15 May article “Abbottabad Investigation: Don’t Hold Your Breath” in the Web magazine South Asia Hands that if an investigation in fact takes place, its conclusions will almost certainly be tightly held. “That’s the way things are done in Pakistan,” Schaffer noted.
Prime Minister Gilani, who often echoes Pakistan militarys voices from Islamabad, said at a 29 May in Lahore, “Unilateral acts like the Abbottabad incident will not be acceptable to us.”
“The most notorious evidence of this protective approach to military failure was the fate of the report compiled by Justice Hamidoor Rehman on the historic 1971 defeat of the Pakistan Army by Indian forces in the war that led to the breakup of united Pakistan and the establishment of independent Bangladesh. Never published, the report only came to light when it was discovered almost 30 years later by an Indian journalist,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer concluded that the heads of senior military or intelligence officers will not roll either. Pakistan does not have a tradition of public acceptance of responsibility, and the army has not engaged in the kind of “lessons learned” exercises familiar elsewhere. What usually follows a military setback is official silence punctuated by self-exculpatory statements and creative finger-pointing by those involved, Schaffer noted. The article pointed out that the reported statement by Pakistan ISI chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in the parliament, volunteering to resign over the intelligence failures connected with the Abbottabad operation, could be an unadulterated ruse. “Given Pakistan’s military culture, it would be very surprising if such an offer were honestly made, let alone that it would be accepted,” Schaffer noted.
“”¦the operation undertaken to kill Bin Laden involved backup plans for an armed confrontation with Pakistani forces highlight the decidedly dangerous nature of the raid. The operation threatened direct military hostilities between U.S. and Pakistani troops well inside Pakistani territory”¦”
While the Osama killing has been depicted by Washington as “fully consistent” with the laws of war, within Pakistan, it has evoked a negative response across the board. Some of the criticism of the action stems from the fact that Pakistan fears retribution by the jihadists. The Lahore-based news daily, the Daily Times, made that clear in a 3 May editorial when it said, “While his death is a definite blow to the militants, it provides them with the perfect chance for bloody retribution. The U.S. and its allies — especially Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed — will be sure terror targets. It is little wonder that the U.S. is on red alert security. Pakistan had also better watch out.”
On 5 May, Pakistani foreign minister, Salman Bashir, said the U.S. forces may have breached his country’s sovereignty. Clutching U.N. Security Council documents, Salman Bashir said, “There are legal questions that arise in terms of the U.N. charter. Everyone ought to be mindful of their international obligations.” His comments, at a press conference in Islamabad, may have been aimed as much at preventing India from launching a unilateral raid on Pakistani territory in revenge for the 2008 Mumbai massacres as at reproaching Washington.
Prime Minister Gilani, who often echoes Pakistan military’s voices from Islamabad, said at a 29 May in Lahore, “Unilateral acts like the Abbottabad incident will not be acceptable to us.” Gilani told reporters in Lahore that U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Senator John Kerry have supported Pakistan’s stance on the Abbottabad incident. He said the U.S. leadership has not accused Pakistan of incompetence or complacency on the Osama issue.
Professor Junaid S. Ahmad, a member of the faculty of law and policy at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, in a 30 May article, “Pakistan-U.S. Relations in the Post-Osama Era,” posted at the Afro-Middle East Centre website, emphasised that lurking behind the scenes is the threat that the Obama administration will hold back billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan. Ahmad’s assessment is worth quoting at length: