Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pakistan's military is on shaky ground

In the wake of the bin Laden killing, an opinion piece in a Kurachi-based publication, dawn.com, challenges Pakistan's people to confront the elephant in the room.
Today is the time to hold the military accountable for their failures and their actions and bring some direction to the state of affairs.
Pakistan's military either did not know bin Laden was hunkered down in a big house mere feet from major military intallations, or did know and kept mum. Neither case covers the military in glory.

Worse, Pakistan's military either knew the U.S. was planning its raid and held back its forces to avoid a dangerous confrontation between itself and its patron, or did not know about the raid in advance and took an unconscionable amount of time to respond. Considering how damaging the delay has been to Pakistan's reputation, the obvious face-saving explanation would be collaboration with the U.S. And yet:
It is stupid, nay unimaginable, that our forces collaborated extensively and do not want to take credit for it. They would not risk inviting the wrath of the international media that they have called upon themselves today.
So as things stand, Pakistan's military has lost a lot of prestige no matter where the truth lies. For that reason, claims the writer, the Pakistani people will have no better opportunity to challenge the military's hitherto unquestioned supremacy in the country's politics.

The scope of action called for is daunting, considering the outsized role the military plays.
Summon the Army Chief. Summon the bureaucrats. Summon the experts. Summon everybody. Make them testify. Ask them the tough questions. Make the report, if not the proceedings, public.

What should they ask them? I cannot imagine that anybody would even want to ask the unimaginable (did we protect him?). It can only be an intelligence failure inquiry.
I don't quite know whether this means the writer has ruled out the possibility that elements of the government knowingly sheltered bin Laden, i.e., the idea is too absurd to be countenanced, or simply is acknowledging the impossibility of getting a straight answer to the question. (The piece is a little rough in spots, grammatically speaking.) It's also not clear to me whether the writer considers calling the military to account the responsibility of elected officials, or of the people themselves.

What comes through loud and clear is the desire for change exposed by this episode -- the same desire for change that the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and other countries have expressed, to varying degrees, in the last couple of months. And Pakistan's military has lost the respect of its people, the most critical factor in keeping the country peaceful and united under military rule.

An interesting question that this piece doesn't raise (because it's focused on domestic Pakistani concerns) is whether the U.S. may have done itself more harm than good by so undermining the reputation of Pakistan's military. If the writer's unhappiness with the military is true of the population as a whole, we could see a clash between the military and civilians that will result in significant civilian casualties. Even worse, the military could splinter and throw the country into civil war. In that case, in addition to the terrible loss of life on both sides, the world would have to be concerned about the fate of Pakistan's nuclear ordnance. Would killing bin Laden have been worth such terrible consequences? We can only hope we don't have to decide.

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