By Air Commodore ® KhaIid Iqbal
Osama has no following in Pakistan; he is neither idealised nor idolized in Pakistan. Public is not angry on the demise of Osama; after all he had already died many times over; likewise this is not the first time that Americans have ditched us . A common Pakistani is feeling humiliated on the way this chronicle was choreographed.
Brunt of the current public rage is focused towards the armed forces, because nation never thought that the armed forces would fail them. Nevertheless, people of Pakistan have a special attachment with their armed forces. Images of the armed forces reaching out to the needy in their dire times during the natural calamities are etched in their memories too strongly to be erased. They view the armed forces as a fallback of the last resort, and they are not wrong.
People of Pakistan are striving hard to put behind the saga of national shame and gloom; shame because Osama was found on our soil and gloom because we failed to locate him, resulting into a humiliating unilateral intervention by Americans, to which we could not generate a military or political response.
Most of the countries are satirizing our intelligence agencies for remaining oblivious of Osama’s presence in Abbot Abad; they are also castigating our armed forces for being caught napping while the US Navy Seals intruded in, completed their mission – ‘Operation Geronimo’-, and extricated unchallenged. CIA chief Leon Panetta is singing that either the ISI was complicit or it is incompetent; indeed both of his assertions are wrong. ISI’s fatal mistake was its presumption that the CIA would operate within the norms of a fair partner, and that it would not stab at the back.
There is a nation-wide aura of insecurity. There have been some voices in the context of acceptance of responsibility and pledges of not letting it happen again. Though these apologies indicate the moral courage at the highest level of military leadership, these are being taken as hollow evasive manoeuvres and have not found credence amongst the public at large. Perception has it that unless structural and procedural revamping is done, recurrence of similar incidents is only a matter of time. Hence, there is an emerging consensus that this national failure needs a national level scrutiny.
Abbot Abad fiasco was one of the fallouts emanating out of lack of a focused, integrated and coherent counter terrorism policy at national level. For example, Despite being a fine concept and duly sanctioned by the parliament, setting up of ‘National Counter Terrorism Authority’ could not take off due to inter-department rivalries. This lack lustre approach resulted in non-conversion of piecemeal tactical level counter terrorism measures into a strategic gain.
At intelligence level also, it was indeed a composite national failure; therefore, both military and civilian components of the intelligence setup need to face the scrutiny with the objective of plugging the intelligence black holes.
Intelligence operations are an essential tool of national power projection. A statesman is blind without the inputs of the intelligence agencies. Utmost secrecy is the sine qua non of these operations. Information is shared strictly on need to know basis. Thus, no one knows exactly what the intelligence agencies actually do and how they operate. Certainly, all such agencies do the dirty tricks to outsmart the rivals. Their successes generally do not become public knowledge, at least in immediate timeframe; however their failures get exposed with a loud bang. Intelligence failures are not uncommon; the finest of intelligence agencies have had colossal failures. There is an unending list of failures by Leon Panetta’s CIA. It would be worthwhile to take a look at the glaring ones.
CIA failed to provide warning about Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (1941). During Korean conflict, it could not provide information about North Korean attack (1950); rather it assured the US President that the Chinese would not send troops to Korea. Six days later, over one million Chinese troops stormed the war theatre.
When the Soviets shot down an American spy plan U-2 (1960); flown from Peshawar, relying on CIA assessment, President Eisenhower publicly denied the occurrence and the Soviets’ accusation of spying. Soviets paraded the plane’s pilot and the wreckage of U-2 before the cameras.
The CIA run ‘Operation Mongoose’ was aimed to assassinate Fidel Castro which failed several times. Moreover, during Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), CIA propagated that Soviet missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads were deployed in Cuba; in reality, no such missile with nuclear warheads was ever deployed there.
CIA failed to predict India’s nuclear tests in 1974 as well the tit for tat nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan in 1998.
American intelligence failed to foresee the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini which led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. CIA also could not provide any warning of the impending Iranian takeover of American embassy. Later, the rescue plan ‘Operation Eagle Claw’ by the American forces to rescue the captives of American embassy in Tehran met a disastrous end.
In the same timeframe, CIA’s assessments about activities by the Soviet military intentions in Afghanistan were erratic, timely and appropriate warnings were not generated indicating Moscow's intent to invade Afghanistan. By the time the ‘Alert Memorandum’ was issued on 19 December 1979, the military invasion had already begun.
Likewise, CIA kept napping over Iraqi designs on Kuwait until Iraq overran the entire country in August 1990; just a day before the attack, intelligence assessment indicated that the large Iraqi build up was a bluff. Once again, the CIA's assessment in 2003 that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons in huge numbers was a glaring failure. In fact CIA became a tool to fabricate political intelligence to satisfy the pathological inkling of Bush Junior to invade Iraq.
Once again, the CIA Failed to forestall the 9/11 catastrophe. Consequences of this lapse are being faced by the Muslim world. It resulted in ransacking of two Muslim countries and destabilisation of a number of other Muslim countries.
A refresher on the CIA is just to refresh Leon Panetta on its success rate; periodic failures of Mossad and the RAW are equally mind boggling. Nevertheless, the objective is not to draw solace out of failures of other agencies, or to justify our Abbot Abad catastrophe. We certainly do not have the luxury of a wide margin of errors.
Notwithstanding the momentary set back, as a whole, Pakistan is a wonderful country, having the capability of offsetting Herculean odds. The people and the leadership of Pakistan have the potential of turning the tide. It is too early to reconstruct the exact replication of the mission and draw accurate conclusions; conflicting theories will continue to fog the reality. Factual narrative may never see the light of the day.
The uncertainty should not grip the nation indefinitely. While pursuing for a meaningful national level scrutiny of the event, let’s march on! Though a serious one, yet a sporadic event should not demoralize us too much and for too long.
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