Abbottabad revisited

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE dust raised by the Abbottabad Commission’s report took long to settle. Each time it seemed the matter was settled, some new issue would emerge to stir ripples of excitement.

Now it is time to sit back and reflect calmly on what happened. The fact that the report was leaked and Al Jazeera posted it on its website is nothing unusual in this age of whistleblowers and hackers. After WikiLeaks, Abbottabad seemed child’s play in this context.

Since it has been claimed that the leaked draft is not the final and authentic one, I shall not go into the nitty-gritty of who was responsible for the intelligence failure in not detecting Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and not stopping the American helicopters’ incursion into Pakistani territory in May 2011. The leaked version of the report calls on the country’s leadership — “political, military intelligence and bureaucratic” — to formally apologise to the people of Pakistan for “their dereliction of duty”. This in all probability must have been retained in one form or another in the final version.

Abbottabad Map courtesy Google Maps
Abbottabad Map courtesy Google Maps
This is like asking for the moon. The words ‘I’m sorry’ are the most difficult in our official lexicon. To apologise is something no one at the helm has ever done in Pakistan. What right does a commission — even a judicial one — have to make such demands? The easy response has been to classify embarrassing reports and stack them away on some obscure shelf to gather dust.

But to the public it makes no sense to spend millions on establishing commissions and getting them to have lengthy hearings and then spend hours over writing reports only to hide them. In that respect, the Abbottabad Commission fared better as its findings became public some months after they were finalised. In contrast, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission that investigated our army’s debacle in East Pakistan was more tightfisted. The report surfaced nearly three decades after the event after all the key players were dead. Again it was the foreign media — an Indian news magazine — that spilled the beans forcing Islamabad to come clean on the issue.

Why are our leaders so sensitive to a public mea culpa? I remember at a seminar where I was the rapporteur, a retired general managing the written questions quietly suppressed a question from the audience asking how the army lost the war in East Pakistan when millions were spent on it.

Worse still, I remember how a question at the discussion in a seminar in Islamabad earned me a sound rap on the knuckles from my host, a retired army general. I had ‘naively’ asked the foreign policy adviser to Gen Musharraf who was singing paeans about Pakistan’s love for India how he would explain Kargil in the light of what he had said.

With democracy making so much headway, it is time all those in positions of power — civil and military — learnt to accept transparency and accountability. Whatever the reasons of their perceived failures, it is time an open discussion was allowed on strategic issues — especially those which involve no breach of security.

If there is public anger and resentment against the performance of the defence establishment it is not hard to see why it exists. First there is the size of the defence budget. This has been a controversial subject for long. In budget 2013-14 defence spending has been jacked up by 10pc. Today the government spends 2.4pc of GDP on defence and only 0.9pc on education. According to one calculation the defence spending is 125pc of the education and health budgets.

One can only marvel at this lopsided division of resources between defence and the social sector that is basically concerned with human needs of the population. In the absence of a balanced and well-rounded social and economic growth, a country cannot defend itself with sophisticated and costly weapons. Even nuclear warheads do not help. We are learning quite belatedly how impossible it is to defend a country inhabited by people who are divided, in poor health, have little or no education, and no jobs to give them a stake in the country. They become the breeding ground for militancy and extremism.

These are signs of a country heading for implosion. The fact is that the nature of warfare has changed totally. Gone are the days when a country that could defend its borders felt safe. Now the enemy lives within its borders and guns cannot hold it together. However powerful might be a country’s arsenal, it may actually be a handicap as it siphons off funds that could have gone into building up a strong and united citizenry which is the best defence a country can have. No army anywhere in the world can defend a people against internal enemies. That calls for a political strategy that seeks to create social capital.

We have numerous examples of countries imploding from within. The most quoted example is that of the USSR which collapsed in 1991 after it had lost the Afghan war. It was not the defeat in Afghanistan that led to the Soviet Union’s break-up. It was its huge defence budget that caused a bust up of its economy when the political structure could no longer hold.

Source: Dawn

5 thoughts on “Abbottabad revisited

  1. Here is an idea. There is one person in history that helped Pakistan and lost his own state which was the pride of the Muslim world. The man who helped Pakistan against all odds and great risk to himself was Nizam VII of Hyderabad HEH The Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan.

    Since 1906 his coffers were open for Muslim League and till well after the creation of Pakistan. He sent in 20 crores to Pakistan who needed it desperately and then sent lots of gold and valuables to Pakistan. Now that 20 crores is equivalent to 64,000 crores today. Plus that infuriated the Hindus and India so much that the day Quad e Azam's eyes closed India invaded Hyderabad and captured it against the wishes of its people. He never wanted anything in return. But we must do something as good Muslims.

    The sad part is we have not honored that guy nor that state. I have a humble opinion and if that comes about we will be doing only justice to a great unsung hero of the last century who was known for good governance and philanthropy. Abbotabad has gained notoriety due to the events of May 2, 2011. It is time to rename it and undo the damage and what better than to rename it on a benefactor of Pakistan who sacrificed his own state for it. Lets re-name Abbotabad as Osmanabad or Nizamabad.

  2. Apropos the last paragraph of article, one must not lose sight of the fact that it was not only huge Soviet "defense budget that caused a bust of of its economy when the political structure could no longer hold" factor that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In fact, there were many other factors such as steps towards Decentralization of Economy and Democratization of Political System, Chernobyl Disaster, Steady Soviet Weakening over Eastern European States, Local Nationalism and Ethnic Fragmentation. Each contributed towards Soviet Union's demise in a meaningful way. The Afghan War was also a key reason behind the Soviet break-up. The Soviet Union formally disintegrated in December 1991, but three of its republics (the Baltic states) had formally allied themselves for secession in May 1990. Last but not least, her last paragraph gives credence to the argument that Sovietology is still quite fascinating.

  3. "a country inhabited by people who are divided, in poor health, have little or no education, and no jobs to give them a stake in the country. They become the breeding ground for militancy and extremism "-excellent summing up of Pakistan's situation in just two sentences.

  4. the soviet demise is blamed on mr gorbchev's policy of glasnost and perestroika. that is if stalinist trends had not been abandoned and state control on internal and external factors not loosened, USSR would not have disintegrated.

  5. Glasnost and perestroika did accelerate the process in a significant manner; but these are not the only reasons behind the USSR demise. In fact, the Soviet break-up was the result of `reformist' leadership of Gorbachev and numerous systemic factors.

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