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:
“”¦In the past, the Pakistani military has objected to U.S. ground forces entering areas that share the border with Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, this incident raises the allegation of a violation of national sovereignty to the next level”¦”
“With each passing day, the scale of the consequences of the raid is becoming clearer. Reports that 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, and in close proximity to Pakistani military facilities. Yet, the Obama administration has shown no signs of remorse about breaching Pakistan’s sovereignty by carrying out the raid mere miles from the capital without any prior consent from the Pakistanis. Since the operation, Obama and other senior administration officials have not only defended the risky raid and celebrated Bin Laden’s killing, but have also made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to initiate more such actions inside Pakistan.
“Bin Laden’s assassination ostensibly came as a shock to Pakistani authorities, who admitted to not being part of the operation to kill the al-Qaeda leader. Furthermore, Washington immediately confirmed that there was no Pakistani involvement in the mission whatsoever. According to the U.S., the Pakistani government was only informed of the raid after the event had occurred. However, in an article in the Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stressed his ‘satisfaction that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced.’ Moreover, he dismissed claims that Pakistan had been sheltering terrorists.
“The 2 May U.S. operation in Abbottabad was deeply embarrassing for the Pakistani military, which rationalizes its bloated budget and control over national security policy by asserting that it is the nation’s most organized, disciplined, and powerful institution. Undetected, U.S. forces completed a 45-minute military incursion in a military garrison town not far from the capital or from the Pakistani military’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi.
“In the past, the Pakistani military has objected to U.S. ground forces entering areas that share the border with Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, this incident raises the allegation of a violation of national sovereignty to the next level, as American helicopters and special forces were not only able to breach Pakistani defences to enter Pakistan, but also carry out the assassination of Bin Laden a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy in what is virtually a distant suburb of the capital, Islamabad.
Several Pakistani analysts implied that Osama bin Laden was really not a threat and that the American action was instead triggered by the Obama administrations perception of domestic political necessity.
“In another sign of the Pakistani military’s growing bitterness towards the U.S., Major General John Campbell, the senior commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, disclosed that Pakistan’s armed forces had halted all contact with the U.S. and NATO for a few days after the U.S. raid, though communication has since been re-established. There has been great anxiety within the U.S. military that Pakistan could once again interrupt supply lines from the port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass through which the bulk of the food, fuel, weapons and other vital supplies for the 140,000-strong U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan must pass.
“Several days after the raid, Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani finally ended his silence by giving a stern warning to the U.S. He asserted that ‘any similar action violating the sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review of the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States.’ Kayani characterized the U.S. operation in Abbottabad as a ‘misadventure,’ and promised a rapid military response to any such raids in the future. He also said that U.S. military personnel presence in Pakistan would be curtailed ‘to the minimum essential,’ without elaborating further.”
In conclusion, Ahmad noted, “The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir also reminded the U.S. that ‘there are red lines in Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. and other members of the international community, which should be observed.’”
Former Pakistani diplomat Asif Ezdi expressed concern over the nature of the raid that killed bin Laden, questioning “whether our nuclear deterrent is safe from a similar U.S. assault.”
Several Pakistani analysts implied that Osama bin Laden was really not a threat and that the American action was instead triggered by the Obama administration’s perception of domestic political necessity. They claimed that the Osama killing would enable Obama to rebrand himself as a wartime president, detaching himself from the pledge of “change” emphasised in his 2008 presidential campaign, bringing his administration ever closer to the military, the intelligence agencies and influential sections of the U.S. ruling elite.
There were some among Pakistani political analysts who related the killing to a growing U.S.-India relationship designed to hurt Pakistan. Professor Junaid Ahmad argues that the United States has evidently balked at taking Islamabad into its confidence with regard to its strategy for a political settlement in Afghanistan, a country that the Pakistani establishment has always considered essential in giving it strategic depth in challenging India. “Moreover, Obama has continued with the Indo-U.S. ‘global strategic partnership’ initiated by George W. Bush, supporting India’s aims in Central Asia and the Middle East.”
Osama bin Laden remained in hiding since 2001 and the Americans just could not get to him. Since his killing, it is only natural to expect that the American population will demand that the Obama administration draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Ahmad notes, adding, “And while the U.S. has virtually acknowledged India as a nuclear-weapons state, as demonstrated by the exception Washington conferred on India by permitting it access to civilian nuclear technology and fuel, Pakistan’s nuclear programme is viewed with great distrust by Washington.”
Osama Killing and America’s Afghan Exit Strategy
In the United States, the immediate fallout of bin Laden’s elimination is related to the urgency to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Washington had never made clear to the American people that its stay in Afghanistan would be long and, perhaps, interminable. Initially, it was understood, but not stated categorically, that the purpose of the U.S. invasion was to eliminate the ruling Taliban and destroy the al-Qaeda network working under Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan. Taliban was defeated in 2002, but it was allowed to make a comeback in 2005. Since then, after many battles and many deaths, Washington has come to accept that the Taliban cannot be defeated and that some sort of arrangement needs to be worked out to end the indefinite American stay in Afghanistan and the bloodshed that such stay ensures.
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remained in hiding since 2001 and the Americans just could not get to him. Since his killing, it is only natural to expect that the American population will demand that the Obama administration draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan. More than a year ago, President Obama had promised that withdrawal of U.S. troops would begin sometime in the summer of 2010 and full withdrawal would take just a few more years.
Prof. Ahmad argues that the United States has evidently balked at taking Islamabad into its confidence with regard to its strategy for a political settlement in Afghanistan, a country that the Pakistani establishment has always considered essential in giving it strategic depth in challenging India.
Presidential promises and loss of American lives are not the only reasons Americans are clamouring for a troop withdrawal. At this point in time, the United States is spending about $10 billion monthly to finance the stalemated war in Afghanistan. Americans ask, how long will Washington be able to borrow vast sums of money in the global bond market solely to pursue less than 100 followers of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan? Some point out that this unexplainable expenditure may trigger yet another banking crisis and real estate meltdown in the United States, causing more unemployment and further deterioration of the U.S. economy. Once the United States gets itself engulfed by a full-fledged sovereign debt crisis, there could be no reason why a financially bankrupt U.S. government would continue to throw away $120 billion-plus a year on a war that has become increasingly devoid of any rational purpose.
At the time Osama bin Laden was killed, deliberations on the futility of an expensive war in Afghanistan had already begun. As Robert Haddick stated in Foreign Policy magazine on 3 June, “The war’s popularity inside the United States may be fading as fast as Karzai’s tolerance. The House of Representatives barely rejected — 204 to 215 — an amendment that would have required the administration to establish a faster timeline to exit Afghanistan. Twenty-six Republicans and all but eight Democrats voted for the measure. According to the Washington Post, a group of civilian advisers to Obama will soon make the argument that the financial cost of the Afghanistan war — $113 billion this fiscal year and $107 billion next year — is too much when the goals and the risks of obtaining those goals are considered. To these advisers, spending on Afghanistan operations is a ripe target for fast budget savings.”
However, on the issue of working out an exit strategy, Washington is nowhere near resolving the two basic issues—the rate of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the nature of the final settlement that will allow the United States to officially declare the end of the war. It is evident that on the question of finalising the rate of troop withdrawal, there exist a number of views dominating discussions within the Obama administration.
“¦U.S. military mission in Afghanistan that would focus on weakening al-Qaeda rather than on defeating the indigenous Taliban insurgency.
During the final visit of U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates (who will step down on 30 June) to Afghanistan, the drawdown of troops, set to begin in July, loomed large. The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has insisted that while these numbers are still being formulated internally, the idea of reductions of U.S. forces to the order of 3,000–5,000 has been discussed in recent weeks. There are currently nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and some 40,000 additional allied forces in the country. The responsibility for security across the country is slated to be turned over to Afghan hands by 2014, at which point, all combat forces are expected to be withdrawn. Reports have begun to emerge that the White House is considering more significant reductions.
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, is a long-time friend and former Senate colleague of U.S. vice president, Joe Biden, who in the 2009 war strategy review argued for a smaller U.S. military mission in Afghanistan that would focus on weakening al-Qaeda rather than on defeating the indigenous Taliban insurgency. Kerry has called the war’s $10 billion-a-month cost “unsustainable,” and recently his committee issued a report critical of the economic assistance program that is a key part of the counterinsurgency strategy’s goal of bringing stability and government to parts of the country once controlled by the Taliban.
Kissinger pointed out that the quest for an exit from Afghanistan has reportedly taken the form of negotiations under German sponsorship between representatives of Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, and American officials.
With bin Laden’s death, some civilian advisers, led by national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, have a fresh argument for a more targeted approach. In an interview, Kerry said that “part of the struggle here is to get people here, my colleagues included,” to focus on “what is the objective.”
“What I would urge, and what the president needs to think about here, is what is the best way now to take advantage of that so that you don’t go backwards, but that you also don’t necessarily stick with the kind of reach that you had because you don’t need to,” Kerry said. “I don’t see this as changing the current strategy because it’s somehow not working.”
In the face of hawkish calls for a negligible drawdown, influential U.S. senator Carl Levin has suggested a significant withdrawal of 15,000 American troops this year. But Secretary Gates has said that Obama should move cautiously in removing troops from a battlefield where the gains, in the White House’s own assessment, remain “fragile and reversible.” Said Gates in his recent farewell speech in Brussels to NATO bureaucrats, “I can tell you there will be no rush to the exits. The vast majority of the surge forces that arrived over the past two years will remain through the summer fighting season. Far too much has been accomplished, at far too great a cost, to let the momentum slip away just as the enemy is on its back foot.”
Also hanging fire is the issue of how to exit the Afghanistan theatre. In the 7 June Washington Post op-ed, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger pointed out that the quest for an exit from Afghanistan has reportedly taken the form of negotiations under German sponsorship between representatives of Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, and American officials. Kissinger said, “Most observers will treat this as the beginning of an inexorable withdrawal. The death of bin Laden, while not operationally relevant to current fighting, is a symbolic dividing line. Still, the challenge remains of how to conclude our effort without laying the groundwork for a wider conflict.”
Kissinger noted: “”¦If their interests in Afghanistan are not related to ours to some extent, Afghanistan will exist under permanent threat”¦”
Kissinger continued, “For negotiation to turn into a viable exit strategy, four conditions must be met: a cease-fire; withdrawal of all or most American and allied forces; the creation of a coalition government or division of territories among the contending parties (or both); and an enforcement mechanism. Enforcement is the most crucial element and the most difficult to sustain. After decades of civil war, the parties are unlikely to feel bound by provisions of any agreement. The Taliban especially will try to take over the coalition government or breach the cease-fire. In the absence of a plausible enforcement mechanism, a negotiation with the Taliban, whose forces remain while ours leave, will turn into a mechanism for collapse.
“An enforcement mechanism can be a residual American force, some international guarantee or presence, or — best — a combination of both. Total withdrawal is likely to be final; there should be no illusion of re-intervention.”
Kissinger also noted, “Afghanistan’s other neighbours would be at comparable risk if a Taliban-dominated government or region reverted to the Taliban’s original practices. Every neighbour would be threatened: Russia in its partly Muslim south, China in Xinjiang, and Shiite Iran by fundamentalist Sunni trends. In turn, Iran would be tempted by the vacuum to arm sectarian militias, a strategy it has honed in Lebanon and Iraq.”
Finally, he concluded, “The complexities of an exit strategy are compounded because relations with Pakistan and Iran are severely strained. These countries do not have the option of withdrawing from the neighbourhood. If their interests in Afghanistan are not related to ours to some extent, Afghanistan will exist under permanent threat. Without a sustainable agreement defining Afghanistan’s regional security role, each major neighbour will support rival factions across ancient ethnic and sectarian lines — and be obliged to respond to inevitable crises under the pressure of events. That is a prescription for wider conflict. Afghanistan could then play the role of the Balkans prior to World War I.”