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A bold report and its ramifications

Pakistan, now a text book case of how to transition from military dictatorships and blundering elected governments to more accountable democratic ones, is past the point of systemic structural crisis

Gulf News

The news that the Pakistan government will inquire into how the Abbottabad Commission Report document was leaked and private conversations with those who read the report when it was submitted to the last government, conclusively establish the report’s authenticity. The protestations about its leaks are unworthy of attention. To the authors our gratitude for producing a brave, bold and credible document, while a milder thank you to Al Jazeera which, in its professional competitiveness, trashed the Pakistan Peoples Party and the caretaker governments’ decision to not make public the report.

Ironically, the fear of public opinion has always haunted the powerful, after committing costly, often even deadly blunders. Fortunately, people in Pakistan are now in the midst of attempting, through public debates, to alter this so that the fear strikes them before they commit such costly blunders. What also helps is that since the bitter yield of past blunders now haunts us at our very core, there is zero margin of error available to those in power.

Piling up of unacknowledged blunders, especially in the security and defence sectors has been Pakistan’s hallmark. The list is endless, beginning from the conduct of the 1948 war, the 1965 war, the East Pakistan operation, participating in and co-authoring the US covert war in Afghanistan, the use of militants as foreign policy tools, loss of Siachen and the pea-brained Kargil operation. In most cases, official efforts made to study the causes of these debacles never actually served the principal purpose of revisiting a blunder — that of avoiding similar future blunders.

The reason was simple. For the sake of political expediency, so as not to ruffle feathers of those in Pakistan’s power institutions, most inquiries were never made public. Hence the debate on root causes of security blunders, without officially certified evidence was always bracketed as one conducted by anti-Pakistan, anti-army etc individuals and groups. The Hamoodur Rahman Commission’s report was finally made public, courtesy an initial leak by the foreign media, about four decades after the report was prepared. It does not have a remedying effect on the way national security affairs were run in Pakistan.

By contrast, blunders committed by elected leaders ranging from nationalisation of the Bhutto era, to questions about Nawaz Sharif’s yellow cabs, from gross mismanagement of the economy to corruption and nepotism scandals, from institutional decay to lack of accountability, are all openly and excessively discussed. At the ballot, in the media and in the courts, the blundering politicians have often been forced to pay in cash, power and even tragically in blood. The consequence of the perpetual accountability of civilian blundering is that today, on the political front, Pakistan is on an irreversible democratic path.

Pakistan, now a textbook case of how to transition from military dictatorships and blundering elected governments to more accountable democratic ones, is past the point of systemic structural crisis on the political front. Vigilant accountability of the elected will keep it away from destructive political crises, while ensuring that political problems are acknowledged and tackled.

Incredulous situation

At this hopeful political juncture, the Abbottabad Commission Report is a very positive development because it provides an opportunity to the government to address the systemic and chronic problems that exist in the country’s security institutions as well as the weaknesses that exist within the civilian setup that contribute to accentuating these problems. The primary mandate of the Commission that authored the report was to honestly reconstruct the events of May 2, 2011, and to detail the weaknesses of Pakistan’s institutions that led to the incredulous situation in which key intelligence and security institutions were found in a “resting” mode when Pakistan’s territory was invaded by a foreign country.

In the Commission’s words: “It has sought the fullest and most accurate possible account of the events surrounding May 2, 2011, to draw lessons and make recommendations to ensure that May 2, 2011-like incidents do not occur.” Accordingly, of the 36 questions raised by the Commission, more than 27 dealt with issues related to security and intelligence. Also, equally important were the two questions related to the responsibility of the country’s highest elected offices to hold those institutions accountable on the Osama Bin Laden issue. As the report concludes, the civilian leadership had clearly abdicated its responsibility as well.

The conclusion of the Commission is that “finally, no honest assessment of this situation can escape the conclusion that those individuals who wielded primary authority and influence in national decision-making bear the primary responsibility for creating the national circumstances and environment in which the May 2, 2011, incident occurred. It is unnecessary to specifically name them because it is obvious who they are.”

The report has now become an incontrovertible part of Pakistan’s history, outlining the gross incompetence of key security institutions and the elected political leadership committed in handling the Bin Laden case. Pakistan’s involvement in it was not only by virtue of having agreed to help the US in hunting down key Al Qaida men, but also because of the killing fields it was fast becoming with the growing nexus between Al Qaida, Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the sectarian militants.

Yes, indeed we all know who they were: The Inter-Services Intelligence chief, above all, because his institution was the main handler of the Bin Laden case, followed by the Military Intelligence, the Army, the Air Force, the president and the prime minister. But the names are not important since the problem is six decades old. It is now time to reform Pakistan’s security system, the responsibility of which rests with the elected prime minister.

Nasim Zehra is a writer on security issues.