Uncomfortable Silence: Pakistan After Bin Laden

Posted on May 3, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Foreign Relations, Law & Justice, Politics
92 Comments
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Adil Najam

What do Pakistanis think about how Osama Bin Laden met his end, the implications of that end?

There are as many opinions on what happened in Abbottabad as there are Pakistanis. Maybe more. But there is no sense whatsoever where the government of Pakistan (or any of its major institutions) stand on what happened – or stood when it was happening. For 36 hours now the world has been waiting to see what Pakistan does and says – the silence and incoherence from Islamabad has not just been embarrassing, it has been damning. Finally, key institutions in Pakistan have begun trying to piece a narrative together – unfortunately it is way too late and the narrative itself rather lame.

When I put up a short post on Osama Bin Laden’s death soon after the news broke, I had hoped that in time more details would become available and we would get more clarity on what happened and how. We do now have more detail. But certainly not more clarity. The story about what happened in Abbottabad now lives in Spin-abad. Everyone – from governments, secret agencies, the media, the Twitterati, and your spinster aunt – are taking a spin. Many are taking multiple, sometimes contradictory, spins. Everyone except the Pakistan government.

That, of course, is a surprise – not only because the Pakistan government does have a lot of explaining to do, but even more because it is in the interest of the Pakistan government to do that explaining itself rather than have someone else do it for them. Yet, up until it was already too late, Pakistan seems to have abdicated that responsibility. In fact, President Barack Obama, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator John Kerry seemed to be making that (half-hearted) case for Pakistan more than anyone in authority in Pakistan. Given that President Obama had informed President Zardari before the speech from the US President, one would have assumed that the Pakistan President and his media handlers would have their own statement ready to go on the air minutes, if not seconds, after President Obama’s speech. This is not about spin and PR, this is Diplomacy 101: Own and define the narrative as soon and as clearly as you can before someone else defines it for you – especially if the narrative is likely to be unfavorable.

But the narrative, itself, is not the core of Pakistan’s challenges. The problem is the facts on the ground and the government’s inability and unwillingness to explain them. Pakistan is used to the feeling of the world ganging up on it. But there are good reasons for the questions being asked of Pakistan by the world today. There are even better reasons for the questions being asked of Pakistan by Pakistanis today. Whether the government comes clean to the world or not, it is vital that it respond to Pakistanis. The first is a matter of national image (no trivial issue, that), but the latter is a question of citizen trust in national institutions (an existential element of statehood).

The fact is that there is a Pakistan case to be made on this issue. And it needs to be made to Pakistanis much more than to the rest of the world. It is a case that forcefully stresses that a world, and a Pakistan, without Osama Bin Laden in it is a vastly better world than one with him in it – this is a villain who orchestrated events that have left more than 30,000 Pakistanis dead in extremism and terrorism. It is a case that legitimately highlights the sacrifices that Pakistan and Pakistanis have, in fact, made in the fight against terrorism. Most importantly, it is a case that honestly analyzes what happened in Abbottabad – it is not a surprise that Osama Bin Laden was found in Pakistan and in a large urban area (just like nearly every other major Al Qaida figure captured) – but an explanation is owed on why Pakistani intelligence failed to make the connections that led to him, an explanation is owed on exactly what Pakistan’s official role in the final operation was (or was not), and an explanation is owed on exactly what Pakistan’s strategy on countering terrorism is, who is running it, and why it is not working well enough or fast enough.

In a country and an ‘establishment’ as divided as Pakistan, this cannot be an easy conversation; it is not supposed to be. It is time to ask honest and tough questions of everyone. It has long need a necessary conversation; now is the time to have it.

92 responses to “Uncomfortable Silence: Pakistan After Bin Laden”

  1. Nazish says:

    Very well said.
    Too many questions hang here, both on the story from the US side and from the Pakistani side. I think neither side is telling it straight to each other or to their own people.

  2. humble pakistani says:

    My very dear Precedent Barack HUSSAIN Obama Sir:

    I am giving you the wasta of the 3 weeks you stayed in Pakistan in your youngmanship and the years your honoured mother was here to stop gernalists or others like tv talkers give bad name to Pakistan. You are great friend of Pakistan if you know it or not and the whole nation is very admiring of you. I know you can stop this as in our land a simple patwari can stop any wagging tungues by a simple wave of his finger in no-no motion, but you are the king of the world so you can do anything. Only old king Clinton can steal lumlight from you and not even the matric pass (on third try) prince Gorge W. Bush. (This is a joke as I am full of it – jokes). You owe Pakistan this, since you ate our salt when you visited, and since you can cook Keema and Daal you should know all about importance of eating somebody’s salt. I hope very much you will not comitt salt-bastardisation (sorry for using bad word in this litter, but what choice do I have?).

    I am already dis appointed that you can’t say the word Abbottabad right even thou can say Pakistan very well indeed, sir. Abbottabad is named for a gora sahib Mr. Abbott so you should know to say his name, not that you are gora, since you look more like my friend faiz baloch. I request you again, humbly sir, to stop the bad name calling of Pakistan and I know you can do it as I am not a dum Texan – another joke, I told you I was full of it.

    Your great admirer and humble servant, sir

    A humble pakistani

  3. Adnan says:

    So this is OBL as said by Americans in recent video. LOL!

    news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/52602000/jpg/_52602 375_binladen3.jpg

    Some Aqal ka Andha only can declare this guy OBL. It’s more looking they grabbed some Chokidar and asked him to watch OBL on TV

  4. Mohammed says:

    Osama Bin Laden was not the only major terrorist sheltered in Pakistan. Even now, the following major terrorists are being sheltered and supported in Pakistan. Those intelligence, military and political leaders of Pakistan responsible for sheltering and supporting terrorists should be questioned and held responsible for their criminal actions.

    * Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Head Of Lashkar-e-Taiba who was responsible for the terrorist attacks in Bombay on 11/26/2008.
    * Dawood Ibrahim, the under-ground terrorist leader who was responsbile for multiple terrorist bomb attacks in Bombay on 3/12/1993.
    * Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, fundamentalist Taliban commanders of Haqqani network fighting Afghan and American forces.
    * Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime

    The fact that Osama Bin Laden was living close to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad adjacent to major military establishments shows that he had high level political and intelligence support in Pakistan. It has been reported that Osama Bin Laden had financed and supported the political campaigns of Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the current Chief Minister of Punjab in Pakistan. Sharif brothers and some elements of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and military have covertly supported terrorist organizations like Lashkar-E-Taiba and Taliban in Pakistan.

    It is high time Pakistani people realise and defeat these sinister elements in their political, military and intelligence leadership who are destroying democratic, economic and educational development of Pakistani society, in order to benefit their own short sighted ambitions. Also, the role of leaders in Saudi Arabia and UAE who are financing and stoking fundamentalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan should be exposed and defeated.

  5. Adnan says:

    I think in Pakistan there are millions of Osama Bin Laden because like Osama they also despise the involvement of US in local issues and dragging Pakistan into war and stationing in Pakistani bases. Does it mean US gonnna kill millions of Pakistanis now? In modern world, anyone who opposes American involvement and go against Israel is a terrorist, so was OBL. I know liberals who are on payroll of Washington will always say that Pakistanis don’t support Osama but fact is that Osama was/is a symbolic representation of resistance against US in any country. Now if someone does not want to say dawn a dawn then one can only pity such person.

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