May 23, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3858

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Criticized By Pakistani Commentators for Escaping Accountability on Bin Laden Issue

May 23, 2011
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 3858

Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, who succeeded Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani as director-general of the Pakistan Army's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)

Following the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a unilateral U.S. operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, there was disbelief in Pakistan that the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had not known of bin Laden's presence in Pakistan. There was also anger against the Pakistan Army and the ISI for their failure to prevent the U.S.'s violation of Pakistan's sovereignty in the operation. Some analysts called it an intelligence failure, as a way of deflecting criticism of the ISI.

At a request of Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, on May 13, 2011, a closed-door, joint session of both houses of the Pakistani parliament was called; in it, ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha answered queries from Pakistani lawmakers.

General Kayani and Lt.-Gen. Pasha are currently the most powerful arbiters of power in Pakistan, and are also seen to be dictating Pakistan's foreign policy on Afghanistan, the U.S., Kashmir and India. The Pakistan Army and ISI have virtually ruled Pakistan over the past several decades.

The move to call a joint session of Pakistani parliament on the issue of the unilateral U.S. operation was seen as ISI's efforts to wriggle out of the difficult situation following the killing of bin Laden. It also offered a unique opportunity for the country's civilian leadership to ensure the subordination of the military and the ISI, which is seen as the mother of all Pakistani intelligence agencies, to the civilian government. However, the current government led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, which has been under numerous pressures from the military, has sided with the military. Nevertheless, Nawaz Sharif, the country's former prime minister and opposition leader, has stressed the need to restrain the role of ISI in Pakistani politics and in the making of Pakistan's foreign policy.

Following the joint session, a number of Pakistani writers stressed that Pakistan should abandon its dual policy of supporting some militant groups while fighting the war against terror, thereby giving a fundamental positive direction to the country's future. In an editorial titled "The Game Is Up," the liberal newspaper Daily Times argued that the Pakistani military can no longer play its "usual double game" of supporting militant groups. It also called for parliamentary scrutiny of the military and ISI budgets.

In an editorial titled "In the Eye of the Storm," the right-wing The Nation daily, as a way of expressing its support for the military, argued that the top military brass had presented itself for accountability.

However, renowned commentators and columnists, such as Aamer Ahmed Khan, Marvi Sirmed and Kamran Shafi, argued that the ISI chief, Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha had escaped accountability while the politicians supported the military leaders in the so-called national interest. In an article titled "This Affair Ain't Going Anywhere," Aamer Ahmed Khan argued that if Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad for five years, as claimed by the U.S., General Kayani too is accountable, as he was ISI chief prior to Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha. In an article titled "I Am All Yours, Says the ISI," Marvi Sirmed criticized political parties for supporting the military and intelligence agencies blindly. In an article titled "The Truth Is Out," Kamran Shafi called for "disgorging" all the militant groups.

Following are excerpts from the editorials and articles:

Daily Times: "The Game Is Up"

"Pakistan's Military Cannot Afford to Play Its Usual Double Game Anymore Because the World's, And Particularly the U.S.'s, Patience has Finally Run Out"

"The joint session of parliament on May 13 was nothing short of a historic turning point in civil-military relations. The in-camera briefings given by the military top brass to the parliamentarians in order to explain what happened in the Abbottabad raid is a new precedent. Before this incident, it would have been unimaginable to think that the ISI chief could ever answer scathing questions from the politicians for many hours.

"In the face of trenchant criticism for their obliviousness to Osama bin Laden's presence near a military academy, our armed forces finally decided to brief the parliamentarians. Only time will tell whether the decision to do this was a tactical retreat by the military or reflects a real mind change. One thing is clear though: the 'game' is up. Pakistan's military cannot afford to play its usual double game anymore because the world's, and particularly the U.S.'s, patience has finally run out. Despite their denials and having confessed to incompetence and an intelligence failure, disbelief lingers that Osama was living in a compound near Kakul and yet no one in the army or the ISI was aware of his whereabouts.

"U.S. Senator John Kerry, who is considered a friend of Pakistan, made it clear during his visit to Afghanistan that the U.S. will 'consider all its options' if Taliban leader Mullah Omar is found to be present on Pakistani soil. 'We obviously want a Pakistan that is prepared to respect the interests of Afghanistan, and to be a real ally in our efforts to combat terrorism,' said Senator Kerry ahead of his visit to Pakistan. Even though the Obama administration has so far maintained that Washington wants to keep working with Islamabad, there is strong resentment in the U.S. at being manipulated by Pakistan since 9/11. 'People who were prepared to listen to [Pakistan's] story for a long time are no longer prepared to listen,' said a senior U.S. official according to a report published in The Washington Post. This certainly points to tough times ahead for Pakistan."

"[Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Said] It was About Time For Foreign Policy To Be Formulated By the Civilian Democratic Government, and Demanded That the Army and Intelligence Agencies' Budgets Be Presented in the National Assembly"

"Many analysts had been warning the military of the repercussions of its dual policies and how the shelf life of such tactics had ended long ago but clearly no one in GHQ [General Headquarters of Pakistan Army] paid any heed to these warnings. Unless the military aligns its new policy with Pakistan's, the region's and the world's best interests, there is no guarantee that our territorial integrity would not be violated again. It seems that the mindset of our military is set in stone but the only way to change is if all civilian political forces come together and stand up to their monopoly on policies critical to the survival and progress of Pakistan..."

"[Speaking outside the parliament, former Pakistani Prime Minister] Mian Nawaz Sharif demanded that our intelligence agencies 'should work within their constitutional ambit' instead of 'subverting the constitution, toppling governments, running parallel administrations and strengthening one political party at the cost of others...' [He] opined that it was about time for foreign policy to be formulated by the civilian democratic government and demanded that the army and intelligence agencies' budgets should be presented in the National Assembly. There is merit in Mr. Sharif's demands.

"The PPP [ruling Pakistan People's Party] and its coalition partners should avail this historic opportunity of tilting the balance of power in favor of civilians. The PPP should not make the same mistake as their leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who wasted a golden chance to trim the military's power back in 1971. Civilian supremacy will not only set our future in the right direction but will help improve Pak-U.S. relations as well. The military's game is over bar the shouting; our politicians must take charge now."[1]

The Nation: "In the Eye of the Storm"

"The Military Top Brass Presented Themselves before Public Representatives for Questioning; This [was] Unprecedented Gesture, In the Context of Pakistan's History, Marred By Prolonged Rules of the Army"

"The Friday in-camera joint sitting of Parliament was memorable. The military top brass presented themselves before public representatives for questioning, and DG ISI [Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence] Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha who had to answer for the intelligence failure in the bin Laden incident accepted, in unqualified terms, his accountability at their hands. This unprecedented gesture, in the context of Pakistan's history, marred by prolonged rules of the army and the assertion of its power even during civilian governments, was an unmixed victory for democracy in the country.

"One must say that General Pasha showed grace enough to tender apology for the lapse and declared his readiness to clear himself before any forum and, if found guilty, to resign. He decided to resign soon after the Abbottabad incident but COAS [Chief of Army Staff] General Kayani had stopped him from doing so. Prime Minister [Yousuf Raza] Gilani also deserves a word of praise for making four successful attempts to persuade leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to get back to the session every time he had left for his chambers, unhappy at the draft of the resolution. Later, its text was agreed upon and so was the constitution of an independent commission to go into the failure.

"The briefing of over 400 MPs could not keep to its mandate of remaining in-camera, as a plethora of details leaked out, though hardly much to add to what the public already knew. Notwithstanding the sharp and awkward questions by the parliamentarians, who blew hot and cold at times, General Pasha kept his cool and kept answering them. His words, 'It was due to the technological superiority that they managed to get in undetected… The failure was not intentional, but I admit that it was a mistake… The Parliament is supreme and I feel relieved after presenting myself before it,' must have sounded disarming.

"Chaudhry Nisar, though, was unsparing in his trenchant, critical questions. General Pasha's most reassuring remark was that there was no threat to our nuclear assets; they were under foolproof control and command." [2]

Aamer Ahmad Khan: "This Affair Ain't Going Anywhere"

"If… It Was An Intelligence Failure, and the ISI Chief Has Accepted Responsibility, Then What Is It That Prevents the Person Responsible from Being Punished?"

"In all mature democracies, it is the elected government that takes state institutions into confidence and not, the other way around. But let us not be sidetracked by this obvious anomaly, when trying to understand what came out of the military's briefing…"

"Pakistan's Information Minister [Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan] told the media, after the briefing, that the parliament was aware of the tough times that the military was facing and had agreed that the nation should stand united behind its armed forces. In subsequent reports, we also heard that the chief of the ISI [Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha] had told parliamentarians that, immediately, after Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad, he had accepted responsibility for the intelligence failure and offered his resignation to the army chief – which was rejected.

"Interestingly, the army chief [General Ashfaq Kayani] had said shortly before the briefing that the government's failure to come up with an unambiguous explanation of the events of May 2, had led to misgivings and resentment within the public. The briefing, as such, was part of the efforts to defuse the resentment. The obvious question then is: Has the combined civil and military leadership been able to do that?

"Despite the ever present Pakistani wrath against the Americans, there cannot be too many Pakistanis who seriously believe that the U.S. can be punished by Pakistan for violating its territorial integrity. However, the fact that the question of public anger remains unresolved is clear evidence of the nation's desire to see someone punished for the failure that has made Pakistan, and its powerful army, the butt of jokes the world over.

"What seems to be puzzling millions of Pakistanis is the inexplicable difficulty in affixing responsibility. If everyone accepts that it was an intelligence failure, and the ISI chief has accepted responsibility, then what is it that prevents the person responsible from being punished?"

"We Are Told that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad for About Five Years – That Takes Us to Back to the Current Army Chief's Tenure as the Head of the ISI"

"We are told that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad for about five years. That takes us to back to the current army chief's tenure as the head of the ISI. That's two people who have never said they are not responsible for the failure. Add the air chief, whose radars remained blank and who couldn't scramble his jets in time, and we have the entire lot.

"It is therefore understandably difficult for Pakistanis to accept how holding these three people responsible, amounts to abandoning the armed forces in their hour of need. The military is an institution that operates way above individuals. In fact, its integrity requires that individuals not up to safeguarding it, should not be asked to do so. And not being vigilant on this front is tantamount to abandoning the entire institution.

"What is it, then, that makes it so difficult for an elected government to do the needful? And if public resentment over the manner in which the world's most wanted man was hunted refuses to die down, is it because of what the Americans did on May 2, or because of what their own leadership has continued to do since?

"For the outside world, it may be more important to know if Bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad was Pakistan's intelligence failure or willful deception. But for Pakistanis, the more urgent question may center upon the primacy of individuals over institutions. It may make political sense for the government to go easy on our current military leadership to ensure that the apple cart stays upright, but does it make institutional sense?

"Pakistan's civil and military leaders can come up with a million explanations but unless this question is answered honestly, the public's resentment ain't going anywhere."[3]

Marvi Sirmed: "I Am All Yours, Says the ISI"

"When... Lieutenant-General Pasha... Graciously Offered Resignation If Parliament Says So, He Intelligently Linked It to His Agency's Possible Negligence 'If Proved"'

"In a rare show of parliament's supremacy, Pakistan's military offered itself for accountability to parliament on Friday... That there should be a joint parliamentary session and that it should be in-camera was suggested by the chief of army staff [General Kayani]... Smart indeed. Now the people know that the main accused is in the court of the people – democracy wins. But it all depends on what the accused says, in what manner, using what information should remain hidden from the public eye, just like the colleague of this main accused.

"The in-camera character of the session could not completely hide the proceedings though. Musings kept pouring in from the insides of the august hall of the National Assembly throughout those around ten hours of 'intensive discussion.' When DG ISI, Lieutenant-General Pasha surrendered himself for accountability and graciously offered resignation if parliament says so, he intelligently linked it to his agency's possible negligence 'if proved.' But that was the time when the representatives of the people sitting in parliament unanimously rejected the resignation option and reportedly reiterated their strong trust in the armed forces of Pakistan. This was despite... the earlier reports saying the members from one opposition party raised slogans of 'shame shame' during Pasha's briefing. Is that not simply perfect?

"Pasha reportedly asserted that the failure in Abbottabad was not only ISI's, it should rather be shared by all the law enforcing agencies working in that area, including the provincial government, local police and other intelligence agencies responsible for that area. Valid defense, one must concur. But it brings us to one big issue that has been largely neglected in whatever our counter-terrorism strategy is.... Complete lack of any capacity enhancement drive for the local police and dominance of the ISI on all terror-related intelligence, especially when it comes to the Haqqani Network and Al-Qaeda, has to be seriously checked. If the failure should be shared, authority should also be shared.

"There was a report presented by the Obama administration to the Congress in last April that the Pakistan government did not have any clear strategy for counter-terrorism, which did not go down very well in Islamabad... We are very fond of registering protest on such reports but one could only hope the parliamentarians, despite their 'strong trust' in the armed forces of Pakistan, asked this crucial question during the joint session: what evidence do we have to refute this report by the Obama administration? What are the contours of our strategy or even a broad policy for counter-terrorism so far? Obviously, such questions could not be asked when a faction of parliament, including some ministers, was so keen to give a lease of life to an institution that recently displayed such a big failure."

"In Their Blind Pursuit of Survival, Political Parties – Including Elements in the Ruling PPP – Are Bent Upon Defending the ISI and the Army"

"In their blind pursuit of survival, political parties – including elements in the ruling PPP – are bent upon defending the ISI and the army, blocking any genuine quest to hold these institutions accountable to the people of Pakistan. Considering the unbridled power and political influence of the army, it seems next to impossible that a sitting civilian government could ever dare to go against this formidable institution in any way. Despite all the idealism of our urban liberals, no party can dare to do so.

"Having said that, it is still incomprehensible why such a vehement defense from the civilian government for people who have, beyond any doubt, frequently overstepped their mandate just to weaken democratic leaders. If the ISI could arrange a secret briefing to over 20 selected media persons only to malign the civilian government in these difficult times, what hampered the civilians to at least keep their mouth shut instead of giving them a lease of life?

"The joint session was not spared the usual chest thumping with claims of having broken the backbone of Al-Qaeda terrorists in the country. The last time we heard these words was from the chief of army staff while talking to fresh graduates at the Pakistan Military Academy, which is seven minutes walk from the Osama compound, a day earlier to the Abbottabad operation. One wonders if someone questioned this claim during the joint session..."

"Another Warning That Came Out... was General Pasha's Assertion that Criticizing the Army and the ISI... would Be Against the National Interest"

"The reason for completely denying any role in the Osama killing that the ISI quietly propagated through its mouthpieces in the media was a real danger of blowback from militants that could result in further civilian killings in mainland Pakistan. If the backbone-breaking claims are true, what backlash did the army or the state fear? Do they think Al-Qaeda could hit back fiercely even with a broken backbone? Or is it an open confession that those who would stand for Al-Qaeda still loom large in the country and are in a position to defeat all security apparatuses in Pakistan to kill civilians in terrorist attacks?

"Another warning that came out of the joint session was General Pasha's assertion that criticizing the army and the ISI at this point would be against the national interest. There seems nothing new in the avowal we have been subjected to for half a dozen decades. Linking national interest and the armed forces has become a laughable cliché civil and military leaders should better review now. Pertinent to repeat what I wrote last week on these pages: if national interest demands strong armed forces, it is incumbent to let the army be accountable and reform itself. Putting the blame on and sharing the failure with the local police and civil administration would be a joke sans sense and logic.

"Another apposite aide-mémoire here might be of significance, i.e. despite the broken backbone, someone is still managing to block Parachinar road and the complete erosion of the writ of state in North and South Waziristan. Let's have the next parliament session in North Waziristan if we have achieved key milestones in fighting terrorists over there. Moreover, our lachrymose moaning about tattered sovereignty in the wake of the Abbottabad operation may also take account of the presence of foreign terrorists calmly havened in North Waziristan, whose presence has been corroborated by intelligence reports on Hafiz Gul Bahadur..."[4]

Kamran Shafi: "The Truth is Out"

"The Deep State [Pakistan Army/ISI] Bludgeoned Parliament into Meeting in Camera, in a Joint Session, At a Time Of Its Choosing... And Ran the Session According to Its Wishes"

"The Truth is out.

"But the denial goes on to confound the hapless people of this hapless country, in the hope that in all the noise and confusion of conspiracy theory upon conspiracy theory, the enormity of the catastrophe this country has just faced will lessen in the public's memory..."

"Some conspiracy theorists and Deep State propagandists continue to question America's claim that Osama was killed in Abbottabad on the night of May 1-May 2. They say the U.S. SEALs killed someone else and carried his body away; Osama was actually killed in 2001 and his body frozen to be brought out at an opportune time which was now when it was thawed, flown to Abbottabad and shot again in the chest and eye; that this was all a drama staged to help Obama win the presidential election, etc.

"This despite the chief of the Mother of All Agencies [Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha] admitting before parliament that Osama's unnoticed presence in Abbottabad for six years was an intelligence failure for which he was ready to resign should parliament ask him and if ISI is found guilty of incompetence. He has also come up with a defense that many other agencies should also be investigated for their part in this fiasco, he is reported to have told (word chosen advisedly) parliament: the local police, the police CID [Criminal Investigation Department], IB [Intelligence Bureau] and so on.

"I guess he forgot that the Pakistan Army and its agencies the ISI and MI [Military Intelligence] rule the roost when it comes to 'strategic assets' [i.e. terrorist organizations] (all 57 varieties), and that these agencies do not let, as we say in the vernacular, 'the fly sit on their noses' when it comes to this lot. I can see the local police official sauntering up to that quite frightening house festooned with surveillance cameras, and ringing the bell!

"So then, the Deep State [Pakistan Army/ISI] bludgeoned parliament into meeting in camera, in a joint session, at a time of its choosing, what. And ran the session according to its wishes, talking down to members of parliament."

"It Is As If, Once Again, the [Military] Establishment Has Had Its Way, Transferring the Egg From Its Face To Parliament's"

"It is as if, once again, the [military] establishment has had its way, transferring the egg from its face to parliament's. Instead of bringing gravity to the proceedings, the government brought a certain lightness to it, as if the Osama affair was nothing much to be agitated about; that it was a very small matter for him to be found in that peculiar house in Abbottabad Cantonment.

"Which, be as it may, is a matter for parliamentarians to sort out; if they want to be treated with contempt who am I to object? So, let us go to more substantive matters; where we are, and where we are to go from here, the crossroads at which we have been stuck for the last 64 years, sometimes with our axle broken, sometimes with both tyres punctured – this is the oxcart of the Pakistani state we talk about – and at others with the poor oxen lame and ill and unable to pull the cart any further.

"How many times does one have to say that Pakistan is exposing itself to disaster by thinking it can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds? For 10 years I have been beseeching the powers to please take honest stock of the state of the country, to please stop using its so-called strategic location as a means towards first milking [e.g. U.S. aid] and then defying the rest of the world, to honestly draw up a balance sheet to see whether the so-called Taliban are assets or liabilities?"

"The U.S. is Up to Here with Pakistan's Shenanigans; It will Be Foolishness of a Very High Order If We Do Not Disgorge the Rest of the Baddies [i.e. the Taliban groups]..."

"How many times does one have to caution the players of the Great Game, our Rommels and Guderians, that Barack Obama is not Dubya, that this is an intelligent and a thoughtful man, who would bring sense to the fight against terror; that it would be impossible to fool him? How many times does one have to beg, yes beg, those that run the security policies of the country to please, please come clean, and fight the war with purpose?

"Well, crunch time is here: from all reports, the U.S. is up to here with Pakistan's shenanigans. Senator Kerry is in Islamabad carrying the big stick and some few carrots and I think it will be foolishness of a very high order if we do not disgorge the rest of the baddies [i.e. the Taliban groups] who are most likely to be hiding in the Citadel of Islam [i.e. Pakistan]..."

"Out of the gloom, however, there comes a faint ray of hope: [former Prime Minister] Mr. Nawaz Sharif's clear and unambiguous stand against GHQ [General Headquarters of Pakistan Army] and its intelligence agencies playing a policymaking part in the political life and the foreign relations of our country. And for the defense and intelligence budgets to be presented in full before parliament..."[5]


[1] Daily Times (Pakistan), May 16, 2011.

[2] The Nation (Pakistan), May 15, 2011.

[3] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), May 18, 2011.

[4] Daily Times (Pakistan), May 15, 2011.

[5] Dawn (Pakistan), May 17, 2011.

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