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اتوار، 8 مئی، 2011

Changing facts and intelligence failure

Just imagine. The Abbottabad American raid has left the nation dazed, stunned and shocked. And worldwide has this nuclear nation become the butt of joke, disdain and pillory, with the neighbours all around gloating at its distress and taunting it mirthfully. Yet the nation is still to get a coherent narrative as to what actually had happened on that fateful day that saw its defence establishment in such an ignoble collapse and its political leadership abysmally out of its depth.

Air Marshal (R) Ayaz Ahmed Khan

That Osama bin Laden was in hiding in the beautiful city of Abbottabad since five to six years has come as a shock to the Pakistani government, its military and to the Pakistani people. Secret American plan to attack Bin Laden compound at midnight without informing Pakistani authorities and its powerful military is a rude affront difficult to digest. The 35 strong Navy Seal commando force launched the assault using three Stealth Black Hawk attack helicopters out of Bagram airfield north of Kabul.
It was a meticulously planned and professionally executed mission. The commando intruders faced no air or ground opposition. Osama Bin Laden was killed and his body dumped into the Arabian Sea. While President Barack Obama addressed the jubilant American nation within minutes, the stunned Pakistani government remained in a state of shock for 24 hours. An apologetic and meaningless statement was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which angered the people. It was a failure of the Pakistani intelligence and security agencies, that the top terrorist had lodged himself comfortably under their belly.
That the White House had to correct its statements about the killing of Bin Laden, has diminished the glow of success claimed by all those involved in the operation. Several lies were told, which are being covered and corrected now. The first lie was that Bin Laden was carrying a gun. Now it is being admitted that he was not armed when he was shot. It raises suspicions that this was indeed a deliberate shoot-to-kill operation. President Obama wanted Bin Laden dead or alive. It was a commando operation without mercy, for a terrorist who had killed thousands.
Here are the other inaccuracies in the first version. The woman killed was not his wife. Osama Bin Laden did not use any woman as a human shield. And he was not armed.
The President’s press secretary Jay Carney suggested that “wrong statements were made in trying to provide a great deal of information in a great deal of haste; meaning lies had to be told to justify the commando action”. There was no need to justify the commando action with lies. There is no mileage in misleading people and then correcting yourself. But the President’s assistant national security advisor John Brennan had to twist the facts in order to prove that Osama was a coward, to give a moral message to justify the American action. So they lied about the sort of man Bin Laden was. They lied that he was cowering behind his wife, using her as a shield. Nice narrative. Not true.
In fact, according to Carney this unarmed woman tried to attack the heavily armed Navy Seal. In another circumstance that might even be described as brave.
Jay Carney said that Bin Laden didn’t have to have a gun to be resisting. He said there was a great deal of resistance in general and a highly volatile fire fight. The latest version says Bin Laden’s wife charged at the US commando and was shot in the leg, but not killed. The two brothers, the couriers and owners of the compound, and a woman were killed on the ground floor of the main building. This version doesn’t mention Bin Laden’s son, who also died. By this count only three men, at the most, were armed. I do wonder how much fight they could put up against two helicopters’ worth of Navy Seals.
Does any of this matter? Well, getting the facts right and speaking the truth is always important. You can’t make an honest judgment without speaking the truth. An honest judgment cannot be based on lies. We all make mistakes, and journalists hate doing so because it makes people trust them less.
For those involved a commando operation like this, time must go past in a confused and noisy instant, and they aren’t taking notes. Confusion is very understandable. But you start to wonder how much the facts are being twisted, for self acclaim and to gloss over the less appealing parts of the operation.
And of course there is the strong suspicion that the US never wanted to take Bin Laden alive. It was important to kill him to avoid the complications of a living Osama Bin Laden. He had to be killed to deny a chance for terrorists to grandstand, and to avoid a back lash of sympathy for the top terrorist, and to bury the anti-American symbol for good.
US authorities justify that, “In the confusion of a highly risky and dangerous commando raid it’s hard to see how the Navy Seals could be sure that Bin Laden wasn’t armed, didn’t have his finger on the trigger of a bomb, wasn’t about to pull a nasty surprise. If he had his hands in the air shouting “don’t shoot” he might have lived, but anything short of that seems to have ensured his death.”
All Americans – politicians, officials, and common public is delighted that Osama was killed – taken out in a daring and thrilling filmed commando action. They care less for reaction in Islamic countries and criticism in some quarters in Britain and Europe. They do not wish to debate the right or wrong of the commando action.
Leo Panetta, the CIA Director, and important American officials have rejected Pakistani arguments that intelligence about OBL compound in Abbottabad and operational planning for the commando attack should have been shared with the ISI and Pakistani military. They argue that the mission would have failed if total secrecy was not maintained. Key American leaders while emphatic about maintaining good relations with Pakistan and especially with its powerful military, have made it clear that Pakistan cannot be trusted. That similar operations will be carried out against other key terrorists viz Mullah Omar and Zawahiri, meaning thereby that Pakistani protests will be brushed aside.
US media is deriding the OBL support groups in Pakistan, including Pakistani establishment, and hate America propaganda of the Pakistani media. The biggest OBL support group is the 35 million strong Pakhtuns living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Balochistan and Karachi.
They are furious over the commando assassination of Osama bin Laden. The US media is justifying the commando action by saying: “We are less comfortable about frontier justice, less forgiving about police shooting people who turn out to be unarmed, perhaps less inculcated with the Dirty Harry message that arresting villains is for wimps, and real justice grows from the barrel of a gun. Many in America won’t be in the slightest bit bothered that a mass murderer got what he deserved.
American’s love vigilante justice. That his end came swiftly and dramatically has pleased every American, big or small.
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