Pathetic defence

Pathetic defence

Pakistan prime minister Yusaf Raza Gilani has used his speech before parliament to curry favour with the military and the ISI, rather than provide the world and especially the Pakistani people answers to how slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was able to stay in some luxury in the heart of Pakistan for so many years.

In his speech Gilani repeatedly sought to distance Pakistan from the al-Qaeda. Indeed, the role of the CIA in nurturing Osama and other jihadis during the 1980s is well documented. Still in shifting the blame for the Osama phenomenon onto the Americans alone and in pointing out that Pakistan did not invite al-Qaeda to Afghanistan or Pakistan, he was being more than parsimonious with the truth. After all, did not the government choose to co-operate with the CIA in the nurturing of religious extremism?

And what prevented successive governments — military and civilian — from correcting the flawed policy of using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy? Gilani claimed that no other country has done as much as Pakistan to fight the al-Qaeda. He was full of praise for the military and the ISI, even describing the latter as a ‘national asset.’

That the civilian government is not anxious to lay bare who in the ISI/military provided Osama with a safe house for six years in Abbottabad is evident from the fact that the only investigation into this question will be done by the military. What the military will reveal is a foregone conclusion; its dirty role and responsibility in sheltering Osama will be whitewashed.

Perhaps a few middle-rung officers will be purged and nothing beyond that. Those who were hoping that Gilani would announce a separate civilian probe into the ISI’s role and use this as a starting point to reform the functioning of the intelligence agency will be disappointed.

In the context of the US’ anger with the ISI’s role in sheltering Osama, Pakistan’s political leaders had two choices — distance themselves from the ISI or fly to its defence. They chose the latter. Nobody expected Gilani to reprimand the ISI in public. But fearing a coup, he chose to ingratiate himself with the generals. In seeking to buy peace with them, Gilani threw away an opportunity to reform the ISI.