An article written by Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, has kicked off a storm in Pakistan. Haqqani’s article states that the Obama Administration managed to place intelligence assets within Pakistan to help track Osama Bin Laden. The civilian government under President Zardari approved the request. These assets may have facilitated the May 2011 operation by US Navy Seals to find and kill Bin Laden without Pakistan’s knowledge.
Almost all the political parties and TV talking heads have construed Haqqani’s narrative as an admission of facilitating CIA thereby harming Pakistan’s security interests. The media rumpus and impending resolutions in the Parliament constitute much ado about nothing. The way Haqqani tells it, this was all done in full knowledge of the then PPP government. The latter’s distancing itself from the comments has not proved sufficient in quelling its opponents’ thirst for political blood. For some in the party, Haqqani may have, perhaps inadvertently, thrown the PPP under the bus. But it really is no biggie. Our politicians need to readjust their focus. There are two issues of import here. Haqqani’s account follows the official line that the hunt for Bin Laden was a CIA go-it-alone adventure conducted without the knowledge of the Pakistani security establishment. This view has been meticulously debunked by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. Ironically, Haqqani’s comments unwittingly let Pakistan’s security establishment off the proverbial hook. Both complicity and negligence on our part are perturbing scenarios.
Second, and more worrying, is how the conventional line that the Abbottabad raid hurt the national interest is being reinforced. The unsaid flip side of this dictates that holding the Al Qaeda chief prisoner for five year was in the national interest. According to one Hersh source, the then ISI chief was blunt in his explanation of the perceived strategic pay-off. It goes something like this: the ISI were using Bin Laden as leverage against the possibility that Al Qaeda and Taliban activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan took a turn against its diktats. Were this to happen — the spooks would take revenge by handing over Bin Laden to the Americans. Needless to say, Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan remains an issue of far greater significance than how many visas were granted to Americans and with whose authorisation. Thus instead of wasting time political chest thumping, our parliamentarians would do well to heed the old adage of never looking a gift horse in the mouth. They should, with full support of the media, revisit the Abbottabad Commission Report and demand its immediate declassification. Failure to do this will be far greater a crime than a former ambassador’s momentary bragging.