Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s statement in the National Assembly in response to the burning questions about Osama bin Laden’s life and death on Pakistani territory was a useful history refresher on the first Afghan war and the role of the United States, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, in the creation of an army of mujahideen to take on the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The man who later became the leader of al-Qaeda was undeniably a product of this jihad. As Mr. Gilani noted, there is little about it that is not documented. Even Hollywood has done its bit. But as a reply to why bin Laden was discovered living in relative comfort in the heart of Pakistan, not by the country’s own military or intelligence agencies but by the U.S., Prime Minister Gilani’s account falls far short of an adequate explanation. His characterisation of this failure as that of “all the intelligence agencies in the world” comes across more as an attempt to deflect blame than as a response born out of honest introspection by the Pakistan state. Even as a history lesson, Mr. Gilani’s statement was incomplete. No one pushed Pakistan into the first Afghan war; Pakistan’s military under General Zia ul Haq made a calculated choice to participate in it. Aside from the U.S. support, Saudi Arabia generously poured money into Pakistan to create a culture of jihad. After the war, the same military and its intelligence agencies decided to deploy some of those jihadists to establish a pro-Pakistan regime in Afghanistan, while others were despatched for the task of ‘liberating’ Kashmir from India. No Pakistan army chief has ever made an attempt to institutionally repudiate the Zia legacy. No civilian government has dared to do it. By the time of 9/11, the poison of jihad had gone so deep into Pakistan that any effort to purge it was bound to take generations of cleansing. Whichever way you slice this cake, Pakistan’s paramount institution, its military, cannot escape the blame for l’affaire OBL, notwithstanding Mr. Gilani’s clean chit to it and the Inter-Services Intelligence.
Prime Minister Gilani announced in parliament that an “investigation has been ordered” into the entire episode. He did not specify any terms of reference or a time frame for this. But The Guardian has provided the interesting lead that in 2001, the Bush administration struck a deal with General Pervez Musharraf, then the military ruler of Pakistan, that permitted a unilateral U.S. operation against bin Laden on Pakistani soil. The agreement is said to have been renewed in 2008, when the present Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, was in charge. While the full truth about how OBL managed to hide in Abbottabad may never come out, it is time for the Pakistan military to face up to some truths about itself — and about its role in bringing the country to its present state.