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What Pakistan can learn from OBL report

Report on how Bin Laden was killed on Pakistan soil by the US makes case for reform in security services convincing.
Last modified: 10 Jul 2013 14:43
Photo: Reuters/ Akhtar Soomro

The 336 pages seem to get more and more damning of the state the more you read on. The leaked Abbotabad report pulls no punches but stops short of apportioning individual blame, and that may well be reason that Pakistan could learn some valuable lessons now that the report has been made public. 

Without individual blame there is no one to hang, metaphorically, but by blaming failures on all levels of the state and its institutions, it presents the case for reform quite convincingly. The genie is out of the bottle for all to see. Had it remained classified it could have been ignored by all in authority who had read it. Much like an embarrassing photo that you can put away in a drawer or in a folder on your computer,  you can forget that it ever existed. There's no option for that now. The world has seen the Abbotabad Commission report.

What happens next - not publicly but privately as Pakistani authorities are staying mute on the matter - is key. One of the findings that struck me the most is the lack of a national strategy on security and dialogue between the various branches of the armed forces. That Pakistan's air force found out about the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound when they saw it on television makes a mockery of their motto "Lord of all I survey".  

The report puts it even more bluntly: "Is it official or unofficial defence policy not to attempt to defend the country if threatened or even attacked by a military superpower like the US?"

By now most analysts who have read the report are in agreement that Pakistan needs to update its national security doctrine. The current government, headed by Nawaz Sharif, may well have inadvertently put itself in a good position to be able to do that. Right now Pakistan has no defence minister or foreign minister. 

The Sharif government took control of the sensitive ministries of defence and foreign affairs in late May, appointing instead advisers they felt they could trust. 

They wanted to get to grips with the relationship the civilian government had with the army. Traditionally, the army has exercised great influence over those two ministries. In the light of the leaked report Sharif could - and it will take an Herculean effort - do what no other has done. Bring Pakistan's army much closer to this civilian government. Like I said, It won't be easy.

Uneasy relationship with army

Sharif has a fraught relationship with the army. This leak won't make that any better. What Sharif needs is an honest broker: someone who can dance the delicate diplomatic tango needed between the army, the foreign office and the defence ministry. That person needs to have an in-depth understanding of the security challenges Pakistan faces, of the capabilities of its armed services and the reach of the foreign office.  

Pakistan had a National Security Council that first convened in 1969 and was then finally abandoned in 2008. Its history wasn't good, with many seeing it as another arm of the military. But the National Security Council's central premise is sound. Its functions are to advise the prime minister and the president on matters of foreign and defence policy. But can that be achieved? Former Major-General Jamshed Ayaz, from Pakistan's intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), thinks it can.

"Two things need to happen. Firstly, a high-level committee needs to be formed to take a close look at the report and its findings," Ayaz said. "They should pinpoint what needs to be rectified and what is incorrect information. As far as a national security adviser or council goes, it is a good way. But selection is key. It can't be a political appointee. We do have an organisation already that mixes civilian and military personnel, the Strategic Planning Division. That should be the role model." 

The Strategic Planning Division is, in effect, the controller of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and is seen by many in the West as an effective organisation, and in Pakistan is seen as a source of pride. But nuclear weapons are one thing. A coherent security policy is quite another.  The real fear for many is that a National Security Council will simply be taken over by the army and neutralised, making it another layer of bureaucracy that the army can ignore.

Case study

There is a case study for this.

The Cabinet Defence Committee. Its charter grandly sets out the premise that it acknowledges the "Supremacy of elected civilian leaders in interpreting national interests".

But this committee is without teeth. It only held one meeting in 2008-2009 and since then has averaged meetings twice a year. 

Ironically, it was Sharif and slain Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto who called for the disbanding of  the National Security Council, and the reinstatement of the cabinet defence committee in their charter of democracy inked in May 2006 while they were both in exile.

Whatever Pakistan chooses to call its civilian-military forum, a few things are clear: It must be an honest broker. It must have teeth and it must have clear national security doctrine that trickles down to all levels of the Pakistani civilian military establishment. 

The country now  faces a choice. It can admit the case of Osama Bin Laden has shown the country what needs to be fixed and it can go about the business of repair, or it can bury its ahead in the sand.