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May 6, 2011

Osama Bin Laden episode and
Pakistan’s dispirited mercenary army

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Four days after the Abbottabad episode, Pakistan’s dispirited mercenary army, in a terse statement, called Thursday for cuts in the number of U.S. military personnel in the country to protest the US operation in Abbottabad that “killed Osama bin Laden.” The army also threatened to cut cooperation with Washington if the U.S. stages more unilateral raids on its territory.

The army's statement issued after a meeting of Pakistan's top generals was the first since the raid.  It was apparently aimed at pacifying domestic critics who accuse it of failing to protect the country's sovereignty.

Pakistani army, the seventh largest in the world in terms of active troops, has been facing severe flak for being caught napping on the Abbottabad incident. Ansar Abbasi, commentator of The News, a leading Pakistani English daily asked:   Why should we raise and sustain the world's seventh largest Army, costing more than Rs600 billion per year, if it could not or does not counter such a foreign invasion?

Members of Parliament, newspaper editorials and political talk shows are calling for an explanation and challenging the all powerful army and intelligence establishment, the two institutions previously immune to public criticism.

The statement said Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani told his colleagues that a decision had been made to reduce the number of U.S. military personnel to the "minimum essential" levels. The U.S. has about 275 declared U.S. military personnel in Pakistan at any one time.

The statement did not refer to US suspicions that the army, or elements within it, may have sheltered bin Laden, but admitted intelligence "shortcomings" in not spotting bin Laden, who was living in Abbottabad.

The News said that with CIA chief Panetta and the entire American leadership showing their strategic teeth to Pakistan, the Pakistan military leadership has ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to this situation.

According to US Congressional Research Service, Pakistani military has received $ 8.881 billion between 2002 and 2010 for its unpopular operations against its own people in FATA, Swat and Northern areas.

Taking serious note of the assertions made by Indian military about conducting an operation similar to the one carried out by the US, the army made it clear that “any misadventure of this kind will be responded to very strongly”.

As regards the possibility of similar hostile action against Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the army reaffirmed that, unlike an undefended civilian compound, “our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place.”

The New York Times Thursday said that the reputation of the army, the most powerful and privileged force in Pakistan, has been severely undermined by the American raid, raising profound questions about its credibility from people at home and from benefactors abroad, including the United States. “There is no doubt that the raid has provoked a crisis of confidence for what was long seen as the one institution that held together a nation dangerously beset by militancy and chronically weak civilian governments.” 

According to International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2010 the Pakistani Armed Forces have approximately 617,000 personnel on active duty, 513,000 in reserve and 304,000 in its paramilitary forces giving a total of almost 1,451,000 personnel.

Anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan

Not unexpectedly, Pakistanis took to the streets on Friday, cheering Osama bin Laden and shouting "death to America" to condemn a unilateral US raid on their soil.

In Abbottabad, the town where bin Laden was reportedly killed by US commandos in a shock operation on May 2, dozens of people marched through streets after Friday prayers, calling on the United States to stay out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Setting fire to tyres and blocking a main road, the protesters yelled: "Down, down USA!" and "Terrorist, terrorist, USA terrorist."

A regional leader in Pakistan's main religious party Jamaat-e-Islami mocked Pakistan's powerful army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kayani. "You did not fulfil your duty. When they attacked, you were sleeping. Don't be afraid of America, come out of your air-conditioned room," Mohammad Ibrahim Khan told the crowd, waving banners that condemned the raid.

Tellingly, Pakistan's religious parties have not traditionally done well at the ballot box, but they wield considerable influence on the streets.

'The country's political and military leadership should immediately resign as they have failed to ensure the country's integrity,' said Fareed Ahmed Paracha, a senior leader of the biggest Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, at a rally in the eastern city of Lahore. 'This is an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty.'

About 1,500 people demonstrated near the city of Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province in the southwest, saying more figures like Bin Laden would arise to wage holy war against the United States. 'Jihad (holy war) against America will not stop with the death of Osama,' said cleric Fazal Mohammad Baraich, amid shouts of 'Down with America'. 'Osama Bin Laden is a shaheed (martyr). The blood of Osama will give birth to thousands of other Osamas.'  

Anti-American sentiment is running high and the U.S. war on militancy is unpopular in Pakistan because of the high civilian deaths from drone attacks against “suspected militants” along the Afghan border and the feeling they are a violation of the country's sovereignty.  

On Friday, US resumed drone attacks after a brief lull. At least 15 persons were killed and four others injured in the latestUnited States drone attack in North Waziristan. The drones fired six missiles at a seminary and two missiles at a car parked in a hotel in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan tribal region, TV channel Express reported.

Friday's strike also is the 26th of its kind since 2011. To date, over 180 people have reportedly been killed in the 26 strikes launched by the U.S. drones since the beginning of this year.

Tail End

I have been reading dozens of articles and analysis on Osama Bin Laden’s killing episode but would like to share one comment by Paul Craig Roberts, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. 

Under the headline: The Agendas Behind the Bin Laden News Event, Roberts writes:

  • “When such a foundational story as the demise of bin Laden cannot last 48 hours without acknowledged "discrepancies" that require fundamental alternations to the story, there are grounds for suspicion in addition to the suspicions arising from the absence of a dead body, from the absence of any evidence that bin Laden was killed in the raid or that a raid even took place. The entire episode could just be another event like the August 4, 1964, Gulf of Tonkin event that never happened but succeeded in launching open warfare against North Vietnam at a huge cost to Americans and Vietnamese and enormous profits to the military/security complex……
     
  • “The real question before us is: What agenda or agendas is the "death of bin Laden" designed to further?
     
  • “There are many answers to this question. Many have noticed that Obama was facing re-election with poor approval ratings. Is anyone surprised that the New York Times/CBS Poll finds a strong rise in Obama's poll numbers after the bin Laden raid? As the New York Times reported, "the glow of national pride" rose "above partisan politics, as support for the president rose significantly among both Republicans and Independents. In all, 57 percent said they now approved of the president's job performance, up from 46 percent.
     
  • “In Washington-think, a 24-percent rise in approval rating justifies a staged event.
  • “Another possibility is that Obama realized that the budget deficit and the dollar's rescue from collapse require the end of the expensive Afghan war and occupation and spillover war into Pakistan. As the purpose of the war was to get bin Laden, success in this objective allows the US to withdraw without loss of face, thus making it possible to reduce the US budget deficit by several hundred billion dollars annually -- an easy way to have a major spending cut.”

Various parts of the government quickly seized on the success in killing bin Laden to defend and advance their own agendas, such as torture, Paul Roberts said adding: Americans were told that bin Laden was found as a result of information gleaned from torturing detainees held in Eastern European CIA secret prisons years ago.

This listing of possible agendas and add-on agendas is far from complete, but for those capable of skepticism and independent thought, it can serve as a starting point, he concluded.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of America.