By B. Raman
A dangerous mix of humiliation and desperation is the prevailing mood in the Pakistani Armed Forces and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden in a clandestine chopper-borne raid conducted by US naval commandos on a huge house next to the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) at Abbottabad in the Khyber Pakhtoonkwa province.
The humiliation of the ISI arises from the fact that OBL was living undetected at Abbottabad for over five years. The international community and large sections of public opinion in Pakistan itself believe that without the complicity or the silent connivance of the ISI he could not have lived that long in that area.
In his secret testimony before an in-camera session of the Pakistan Parliament on May 13, Lt.Gen.Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of the ISI, tried to shift part of the blame for this huge intelligence failure on to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Police, both of which come under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. His efforts have failed following allegations by leaders and officials of the Khyber Pakhtoonkwa province that the responsibility for intelligence collection and security in garrison towns vested exclusively in the ISI and that the IB and the Police had no role in the matter.
The humiliation of the Armed Forces has arisen from the fact that neither the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) nor the Army was able to detect and prevent the intrusion of the US choppers into the Abbottabad area to kill OBL and escape with his body and a large quantity of documents, computer material and other evidence which could ultimately help the US intelligence, inter alia, to trace the links of OBL with influential people in the Pakistani civil society and the Government.
Even though the Armed Forces and the ISI have managed to force the political leadership into expressing its solidarity with them despite their shocking sins of commission and omission, their credibility has been badly damaged in the eyes of the people of the country as well as of the international community.
The Army and the ISI have thus far managed to avoid any out-of-house enquiry into the huge intelligence failure that could have arisen from suspected complicity of serving and retired officers of the ISI. The only comprehensive enquiry by an independent commission to which they have agreed is into the security failure which enabled the US to conduct its spectacular commando raid right under the nose of the Army and the Air Force.
The vaunted professional reputation of the Army, the Air Force and the ISI is in ruins. The desperation seen is in salvaging the severely damaged reputation in the eyes of the Pakistani people and junior and medium level officers of the Armed Forces. There is a danger of the military and the ISI leadership concluding that without an external adventure against India they may not be able to salvage their reputation and restore the morale of the Armed Forces and the ISI at junior and senior levels.
The Government of India should be alert to the danger of such an adventure directed against India through the usual surrogates of the ISI such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba ( LET), or the so-called 303 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri or other anti-India jihadi organizations. The Pakistan Army and the ISI might calculate that re-kindling acts of terrorism against India in J&K and outside might benefit them in two ways. Firstly, to salvage their reputation and restore the morale of their personnel. Secondly, to direct the anger of the LET and other jihadi organizations towards India instead of towards the Pakistani Armed Forces.
The jihadi organizations seem to suspect that the spectacular raid at Abbottabad by the US commandos might not have been possible without the knowledge, if not the complicity, of the Armed Forces. This anger against the Armed Forces among the jihadi organizations has already led to two simultaneous acts of suicide terrorism by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) against a group of young recruits to the Frontier Constabulary, a para-military unit, on the day they completed their training in a training centre in the Charsaddha District of the Khyber Pakhtoonkwa province.
To avoid more such attacks on the Pakistani security forces, the anger of the jihadi organizations may be diverted towards India. There is considerable anger against the US in the Pakistani Armed Forces as well as the civil society. This anger could dilute the ability of the US Government to exercise any restraining influence over such adventurous actions directed against India.
The prevailing mindset among senior officers was evident from a reported claim of Pasha before the in-camera session of the Parliament that any Abbottabad-like attack by India would invite a befitting response from Pakistan as targets inside India “had already been identified” and “rehearsal” carried out. It was likely he was indulging in bravado, but one should not minimize the danger of the Pakistani Armed Forces and the ISI provoking border incidents in order to give themselves an opportunity for a retaliatory strike against India. There is a need to mobilize and step up our intelligence collection efforts so that we are not taken by surprise.
The spectacular chopper-borne commando raid would be studied not only by the special forces groups of other countries, but also by terrorist organizations in order to see whether similar chopper borne raids could be organized on our territory. Indian targets which could be vulnerable to chopper-borne commando style raids have to be identified and action taken to reduce their vulnerability.