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An uncomfortable truth

When it began its work, the Abbottabad Commission, set up by the Pakistan government to inquire into the circumstances and happenings of May 2, 2011, the day United States commandos carried out a secret ‘kill’ operation against Osama bin Laden in his hideout, declared it would not indulge in a witch hunt or a whitewash. In the event, the commission’s report, leaked to Al Jazeera, is a few-holds-barred analysis of what went wrong. In the commission’s view, that would be just about everything. It has concluded that the al Qaeda chief was able to make Pakistan his home for nine long years, six of those in a “hardly normal” house in the garrison town of Abbottabad, due to the “collective failure” of military and intelligence authorities, the police and the civil administration. Importantly, it leaves the question of complicity tantalisingly open, underlining that incompetence alone does not adequately explain this failure. Declaring it had no conclusive evidence that any government officials, present or past, including from the military and intelligence agencies, were part of bin Laden’s support group, given the length of his stay in Pakistan, it says “the possibility of some such direct or indirect and ‘plausibly deniable’ support cannot be ruled out.” It has also squeezed in some home truths, among them that while the influence of radical Islam on the Pakistani armed forces is often exaggerated by the West, it “has assuredly been underestimated by senior military officials that the Commission met”.

The Commission has pulled no punches in probing the other main question in its terms of reference either, of how U.S. military helicopters entered sovereign airspace undetected by the country’s armed forces. Few might have expected it would castigate the security agencies for inviting military action against Pakistan by a superior power, by not going after high value terrorist targets themselves, or dismantling extremist groups in the country. The military, particularly the ISI, has come off badly. The report is emphatic that what Pakistan needs is civilian control over all aspects of governance and administration. For sure, there are many questions the report leaves unanswered. It appears to have no concerns about the jailing of the doctor who assisted the U.S. in locating bin Laden. For all that, the 337-page report — even if only a rough draft, as is being made out — is a fascinating commentary on the state of Pakistan, and contains several valuable lessons in how not to run a nation. The Nawaz Sharif government should make the report public and initiate a national debate on it.

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