By B. Raman
The “New York Times” (June 15, 2011) has claimed that the Pakistani authorities have detained a Major and four other Pakistani nationals during the course of their in-house enquiry into the security lapses at Abbottabad on May 2 which enabled the US naval commandos to carry out a clandestine raid into the house of Osama bin Laden near the Army Training Centre and kill him without the Pakistani security forces being able to detect and counter the raid by the US naval commandos.
In the wake of the detection of the house of OBL, who had been living there undetected for over five years, two important issues needed to be enquired into:
(a). Whether there was any Governmental or non-Governmental complicity that enabled OBL to live in that house undetected and, if so, at what level and who were involved?
(b). What were the security lapses in the garrison town of Abbottabad that were taken advantage of by the US to successfully carry out the raid without being detected and countered by the Pakistan Army and Air Force?
The focus of the Pakistani enquiries so far has been on the second issue. No action has been taken on the first issue. It is during the course of the enquiry into the second issue that the Pakistanis are reported to have detained five of their nationals, including a Major, on a charge of assisting the US. The circumstances of their detention would show that they were probably assisting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) without the knowledge of their superiors. The Major is reported to have supplied to the CIA lists of the number plates of the vehicles going into OBL’s Abbottabad house and coming out later. One does not have details of what assistance the other detained persons were giving to the CIA. There is no evidence to show that the detained persons were aware that the CIA required these details because it suspected that OBL was living in that house.
The supposition is still strong in the US governmental circles that OBL could not have lived undetected for over five years at his Abbottabad house without the benefit of local support , but no evidence in support of this supposition has been found by the Americans during the interrogation of the three wives of OBL who are in Pakistani custody or during the course of their examination of the documents and computer material seized by them at OBL’s house. The Pakistanis have not yet started serious enquiries into this matter.
The enquiries by the Pakistanis are in the direction of identifying and detaining those who might have helped the CIA wittingly or unwittingly as a warning to others not to extend any informal assistance to the CIA and other US agencies without official clearance. Leon Panetta, the outgoing Director of the CIA, was reported to have taken up the matter with the Pakistani leaders during his visit to Islamabad last week.
The main purpose of his visit was to soften the continuing feeling of hurt in the Pakistani GHQ over the unilateral Abbottabad raid by the US naval commandos and to reverse the downgrading of the co-operation with the US by the Pakistani agencies. This downgrading has lowered and affected the US intelligence presence in Pakistan and practically suspended the training of the Pakistani para-military units operating in the tribal belt against Al Qaeda and other terrorist affiliates by the US Special Forces. It has also strengthened the Pakistani reluctance to launch operations against the terrorists operating in North Waziristan.
There are only two areas where the co-operation has not been significantly affected — the informal acceptance by the Pakistani leadership — political and military — of the Drone strikes in the two Waziristans and the Pakistani facilitation of the flow of logistic supplies to the NAO forces in Afghanistan from Karachi. Though Pakistani political and military leaders continue to criticise the Drone strikes as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, they have not mounted pressure for stopping them.
A new issue has cropped up in the form of the Pakistani demand for the urgent supply of two Orion maritime surveillance aircraft to the Pakistani Navy in replacement of the two that were destroyed by a group of terrorists, supposedly from the 313 Brigade, who successfully raided the base of the Pakistani Naval Air Arm at PNS Mehran in Karachi last month. The Pakistani Navy plays a role in the multi-national task force deployed in the Gulf to prevent any clandestine assistance by sea to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan is using this argument for urging urgent replacement of the destroyed Orion planes.
The logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan is an important card in the hands of Pakistan for being used against the US if its pressure on Pakistan reaches unacceptable levels. Pakistan had used this card last year and could use it again. Even though Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CACs) had agreed to some of the supplies going via their territory, 75 per cent of the supplies still go via Pakistan.
Supply by air from the Gulf would be expensive. In the meanwhile, Pakistan’s leverage vis-à-vis the US has increased as a result of steadfast Chinese support to its counter-terrorism policies and the improvement in Pakistan’s relations with Russia which could pave the way for Pakistan becoming a full member of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO).
Because of the vital dependence on Pakistan for the movement of logistic supplies, the US finds that while it may fret and fume at Pakistani duplicity, there is little that it can do unless its punitive action against Pakistan has the support of China and Russia. This is unlikely.
The only option that could be effective against Pakistan is to declare it as a State-sponsor of International Terrorism. This would have the immediate effect of suspending US economic and military assistance to Pakistan. At the same time, it could bring moral, if not diplomatic, pressure, on other countries, including China and Russia, to stop assisting Pakistan till it effectively co-operates with the international community in counter-terrorism.
This option could work only under two conditions. Firstly, the US is able to reduce its dependence on Pakistan for logistic supplies. Secondly, China and Russia co-operate with the US, at least partially if not fully. It is difficult to visualise the materialisation of these two scenarios.
Under these circumstances, the only option left for the US at present is to keep exercising more pressure on Pakistan bilaterally in the hope that the political and military leadership of Pakistan would see reason and start co-operating.
The US is paying a heavy price for its past sins of mollycoddling Pakistan despite its sponsorship of terrorism. It now realises the importance of stopping the mollycoddling, but it is not in a position to do so.
The US must undertake a crash programme for reducing its dependence on Pakistan for logistic supplies— either by using other routes via the CARs or through air-lifts from the Gulf even if they turn out to be expensive. If it can do that, it will have more options in its basket to make Pakistan act.