The South Asia Channel
The bin Laden aftermath: Pakistan’s investigation
The successful U.S. SEAL strike against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, just blocks from the Pakistan’s West Point, raises questions about whether the Pakistani military and intelligence are part of the solution or part of the problem of international terrorism. Not only does the U.S. need to learn what the Pakistani military high command and ...
The successful U.S. SEAL strike against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, just blocks from the Pakistan’s West Point, raises questions about whether the Pakistani military and intelligence are part of the solution or part of the problem of international terrorism. Not only does the U.S. need to learn what the Pakistani military high command and ISI knew and when they knew it, but the U.S. also has to ask a series of questions about bin Laden’s heavily fortified compound, such as:
- How long was Osama bin Laden there?
- Who knew and protected him?
- Who owned the land, how was it acquired, and from whom? Who designed the compound?
- Who installed the security systems? Are they commercially available or specialized?
- Given the multitude of military checkpoints in this military town, who did they stop and who did they allow to continue on their way into the compound?
To answer these questions and others, Pakistan’s government needs to convene a special independent civilian parliamentary public inquiry, like the Watergate hearings or the 9/11 Commission. The commission’s representation should reflect the parliament’s party makeup, including both opposition and government parties, and ideally be chaired by a member of the opposition. It should have subpoena powers for the appearance of military and civilian government officials, and well as all bin Laden-related government documents from the military and ISI. Its findings should be made public. This is the only way to enable greater civilian authority over the country’s counterterrorism efforts, drive more effective and transparent programs, and keep spoilers from undermining the cause.
The United States also needs to demand accountability from Pakistan’s military. Pakistani action against national and international terrorist groups is vital to U.S. and Pakistan security, but it also is clear that the Pakistani military has seen action or inaction against those groups through an anti-India lens rather than through a counterterrorism commitment.
Contrast that with Pakistan’s civilian government, which, despite getting little credit, has been making some progress. For example, after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the civilian government investigated, issued indictments and made several arrests which, had the military had its way, wouldn’t have happened at all. Putting more eggs into the civilian law enforcement and civilian police intelligence basket, as called for under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman law, is even more important now.
Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari has also fought to extend constitutional rights to the citizens of Pakistan’s tribal areas, and provide them both the full rights and civilian law enforcement protection of the Pakistani Constitution. The military has stymied these efforts, but the civilian government has countered by establishing a joint commission with all the political parties to find a way to move forward in the country’s most dangerous region. The parliament also adopted the novel idea of having oversight accountability committees chaired by the opposition so that investigations into Administration conduct are free of conflict of interest.
Even though the civilian government has been criticized, the truth is, it has stumbled when the military has stood it its way. The U.S. should build upon the Pakistani government’s successes by strengthening its civilian institutions. It should offer a more significant assistance package to strengthen law enforcement, policy, civil services, and the judiciary’s capabilities. It should also form a more collaborative partnership with civilian leaders at the provincial and district levels to help target U.S. economic assistance.
This strengthening starts with conditioning military support on demonstrable steps to combat violent extremists and ending its longstanding policy of support and sanctuary to such elements, Pakistan or foreign. The U.S. should continue to require, but also provide additional oversight of, on the State Department certification of Pakistani cooperation on a variety of security issues.
The U.S. should also continue to insist that the "security agencies of Pakistan are not materially or substantively subverting the political and judicial processes of Pakistan" and provide stronger support for civilian law enforcement agencies in combating jihadi groups, including prosecuting the small percentage of madrassas that engage in jihadi terrorist training.
The answers to the myriad questions about the Abbottabad compound will eventually emerge. But regardless of what we learn about the Pakistan military’s role in the operation — from incompetence to complicity — the details surrounding Osama bin Laden’s death further illustrate the need to hold that military accountable and to work with and empower Pakistan’s civilian government.
Mark Schneider is Senior Vice President at the International Crisis Group.