By B. Raman
Can Pakistan unilaterally renounce US assistance in protest against the violation of its sovereignty by the US naval commandos who raided Osama bin Laden’s house at Abbottabad on the night of May 1, 2011, and killed him and as a mark of its indignation over the crescendo of US allegations and suspicions regarding a possible complicity of the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in facilitating OBL’s stay at Abbottabad for nearly five years?
According to reliable sources in Pakistan, this is one of the options being considered by the political and military leadership to ward off public criticism over the perceived inaction of the political and military leaders in the face of the repeated violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty by US Drone (pilotless) aircraft in the tribal belt in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and at Abbottabad by the naval commandos.
The violation of the sovereignty at Abbottabad has been particularly galling to officers at the lower and middle levels of the Armed Forces. The reputation till now enjoyed by Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), in the eyes of these officers as a quiet strong man has been dented. Many of these officers no longer regard him as strong as they originally thought he was.
Concern over the damage suffered by the reputation of Kayani and other senior officers is behind Kayan’s visits to many garrison towns after a Corps Commanders’ conference in the GHQ in Rawalpindi last week to explain why the Abbottabad raid took the army by surprise.
According to these sources, many in the Corps Commanders conference voiced their disquiet over the failure of the civilian political leadership — particularly President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani — to vigorously defend the Army and the ISI in the face of the attacks on their competence and professional integrity emanating from high levels of the US Administration, including Mr. Leon Panetta, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who co-ordinated the commando raid.
The aggressive anti-US remarks of Gilani in the National Assembly on May 9 were prompted by the seething anger in the Army over the perceived hesitation in the civilian leadership in coming to the defence of the Army and the ISI. The cordiality that till now prevailed in the relationship between Prime Minister Gilani and Kayani is showing signs of being dissipated.
These sources feel that the danger of another coup being staged by a resentful army is remote because the Army is no longer confident of enjoying the support of the increasingly independent and fearless judiciary in legitimising any coup post-facto. At the same time, the Army’s disillusionment with the leadership qualities of Zardari is showing signs of increasing and pressures are likely to increase for his exit. The salvos against Zardari and Gilani fired by Shah Mehmood Quereshi, former Foreign Minister, for their incompetent handling of the Abbottabad raid have been inspired by his Army backers.
These sources add that it is in this context that suggestions are being made for some dramatic action by the political and military leadership to salvage the reputation of the country. One such suggestion is for a unilateral renunciation of US assistance. Whether this option will be accepted and implemented or not will depend on the kind of support China is prepared to extend should Pakistan unilaterally renounce US assistance. To ascertain this will be the principal objective of Gilani’s four-day visit to China from May 17. The fact that Gilani has not immediately dashed off to Beijing, but will be going only after a week would indicate a desire to avoid over-reaction in the heat of the moment.