The elimination of Osama bin Laden in the military cantonment town of Abbotabad on May 2 and, within three weeks, on May 23, the 17 hour siege of Pakistan’s major Naval-Air base in Karachi have heaped humiliation on the Pakistan Army and the ISI.
Do these unfortunate experiences chasten the Army or does Gen. Pervez Kayani still fall back on the expedience: “Ours is an India centred army?”
The Abbotabad operation remains a mystery. There is a body of observers, in Pakistan as elsewhere, which is convinced that the Army, or at least a section of it, collaborated in Osama’s capture. It is simply not possible for a fugitive to find a comfortable hideout in the shadow of Pakistan’s premier military academy.
If the Army denies knowledge, it is incompetent. If it accepts participation it invites a storm by way of “revenge” from the Pakistan Taliban.
The basic suspicion remains: elements in the Pak army or its affiliates, retired officers, were in cahoots with the Americans. The siege of the Naval base in Karachi leads to an even more frightening conclusion. The base was attacked without outsiders having been noticed at the countless checkpoints required at a military facility. Does it not prove without a shadow of a doubt that it was an inside job?
If both Abbotabad and Karachi are “inside” jobs, the narrative becomes frighteningly confused. In Abbotabad the collaboration was with the Americans to get Osama. In Karachi the operation is avowedly to Avenge Osama’s death.
The charitable conclusion is that the left hand of the army does not know what the right is doing. A more sinister line to pursue is to look for fissures in the army on the issue of Jihad.
There was a nasty little theory doing the rounds: it was called the “one percent solution”. The implication is that if one percent of say 9.5 lakh of the army, Navy and Air Force is infected with Jehadism, then the siege of the Naval base or the attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi in October 2009 are spontaneous eruptions linked to a secret society which grows in direct proportion to rampaging anti Americanism. It is quite a frightening scenario for the region and beyond, particularly when such anarchy grips a country strapped to unclear weapons.
How does one calm a Pakistani establishment on sixes and sevens? Consider the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Kabul. It cannot be anybody’s case in Pakistan, even those obsessed with strategic depth, that an Indian Prime Minister must never visit Kabul because otherwise the Pak army will be in a heightened state of agitation.
The Prime Minister promised to continue development assistance and much else. So far so good. Tucked away in the joint declaration is a mention of Afghanistan’s “security” concerns. Immediately comes a riposte from a Pakistani journalist I know too well. “Why must you poke your nose in Afghan security?
This is paranoia, but let it pass. Let us, for the sake of argument, give Gen. Hamid Gul his favoured turf – Afghanistan. In preparation for this transfer of influence, I suggest Pakistan’s Geo TV (or any other channel) to organise a discussion between Hamid Gul and former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salaam Zaeef, follower and friend of Mullah Omar, who spent four years in Guantanamo Bay. What he told me some months ago in Kabul is what he will tell Hamid Gul. “Pakistan simply has no role in Afghanistan.” Why this anger with Pakistan?
“For four years I was in Guantanamo where human rights violations are not as bad as they are in Pakistan: for seven years our boys languished in Pakistan prisons without trial.”
Well, assuming Zaeef is a spent force, let us consider Serajuddin Haqqani as a Pakistani asset among the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai will thump the table hard. “Haqqani is the worst of the lot” he will exclaim.
Quite ironically, the day Pakistan was in convulsions over the seventeen hour siege of its important Naval base in Karachi, businessmen, including some Indians, were being flown by the government in Kabul to far flung parts of Herat in search of business, trade, joint ventures.
This is not to suggest that peace has enveloped Afghanistan. But it does confirm the other reality: the Af-Pak conflict’s centre of gravity has over the past five years shifted decisively to the very heart of Pakistan. Does all of this still leave Pakistan with a hand to play? Yes, of course. The ultimate ace up its sleeve is to search seriously for peace with India, step by step, but sincerely. The incantation of Hindu India, Hamsaya Dushman has begun to pall, even on Hillary Clinton who visits Islamabad next week.
Author is a senior journalist and political commentator and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org