COMMENT: Interesting times after Osama —Dr Haider Shah
The Wikileaks revelations and Raymond Davis affair had already jolted the carefully crafted ‘defender of the nation’ status of the military leadership. The Osama thriller comes as the final blow
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the famous opening of Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, struck my mind after I watched with disbelief the Osama news story on TV. Many readers would question the appropriateness of this usage for a gory incident that has brought only shame and embarrassment to all Pakistanis. In all fairness, one can only see the winter of despair as the dust has started settling down. But the potential spring of hope is also keen on unravelling itself and I would explain towards the end why I see some light at the end of a long dark tunnel.
When an incident is shrouded in mystery and one is not privy to behind-the-scenes information, one is better advised not to start airing definitive opinions. Our no-holds-barred news anchors and their handpicked experts celebrated a kite-flying bonanza soon after the incident. Their fertile minds came up with explanations of all sorts. The analysts can, however, be categorised into three main types. First, the likes of Hameed Gul and Orya Maqbool Jan who draw their inspiration from various conspiracy theories. It was a hoax. He was a double of Osama. He was dead in Tora Bora. He must have shifted to Abbottabad just a week ago, etc. Listening to these stories one is reminded of the fact that we have a long tradition of denying reality even when it stands tall in front of us. For instance, the Khilafat Movement leaders termed the news of the Caliphate abolition by Ataturk as a British propaganda. Our worthy commentators do not even care that Osama’s family members would soon confirm the incident and thus reduce them to a laughing stock.
The second group of analysts view the incident as a complete failure of the Pakistani security establishment and paint a very bleak future for Pakistan. The statement made by the CIA Director Leon Panetta, suggesting that Pakistan is either involved in sheltering Osama or is incompetent, lends support to the apprehensions of worried commentators. One can see merit in these concerns as stories appearing in the international media depict a picture of Pakistan that is not much different from that of Somali pirates.
A third group of commentators refer to the recent high-level meetings between the Pakistani and US intelligence chiefs and contend that the whole operation was carried out with the full support of Pakistan. The only reason why Pakistan does not want to take credit is to shield itself from the likely backlash from jihadi elements. In this way it is a good development in terms of Pak-US relations.
Whatever the reality is, the official stand taken by the Pakistani political and military establishment lends support to the second group of doomsday mongers. The press conference of the foreign secretary and the ISPR press release admit that the US conducted the operation on its own and the Pakistani security apparatus geared into action to lock the stable after the horse had bolted. But it was not an ordinary horse and the US not only took away the body of Osama but decamped with the treasure trove of intelligence information as well. The cause of concern therefore is genuine, because the consequences of being a pariah state are deadly in today’s globalised world. The case of Libya is in front of us. Compared to Libya our position is much more precarious, as the charge sheet against us contains far more serious allegations. And, worryingly, the international community does not need to enforce any no-fly zone on us. Just a delay or cessation of economic assistance is enough to suffocate us.
In 1987, a German amateur aviator Mathias Rust illegally flew from Finland and landed his small plane near Red Square in Moscow. Tracked several times by the then Soviet air defence interceptors, he was mistaken for a friendly aircraft and was not shot down by the Soviet fighters. The event, though a harmless one, led to the firing of many senior officers, including Defence Minister Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defence, Chief Marshal Alexander Koldunov. On all accounts, the Abbottabad incident was a much more serious lapse and a mere address to the public through parliament by the prime minister is not going to restore the face that has been lost in front of a grinning international community.
The principle of accountability is not only the thread that holds a modern democracy together but even in ancient Athens the Senate made all senior officers of the city state accountable for their actions. Once a year, ordinary citizens would decide on holding an ‘ostracism’ (writing on a fragment of pottery), which meant sending a public official into exile for ten years. The practice was aimed at creating some degree of deterrence to the public officials against becoming highly unpopular with the common citizens. Being obsessed with a result-oriented performance, the Athenians viewed with extreme displeasure failures of all sorts, whatever the causes might have been. Therefore, a lost war or a failed diplomatic mission would result in severe punishments, including death, for generals or diplomats.
In the opening paragraph, I argued that the post-Osama period is also a spring of hope. For the first time I can see vociferous calls for accountability of those who claim to be the custodians of the internal and external security of Pakistan. The social networking sites are abuzz with demands for the resignation of the senior military leadership. The Wikileaks revelations and the Raymond Davis affair had already jolted the carefully crafted ‘defender of the nation’ status of the military leadership. The Osama thriller comes as the final blow. Just as Rust’s little plane incident helped Gorbachev in purging the old guard and hastening the march towards a new beginning for Russia, the US choppers might also help us bid farewell to the old and dying security state and welcome a new welfare state of Pakistan.