Wednesday, June 15

Anatomy of a debacle: ISI arrest of Pakistani CIA informants in Abbottabad raid causes Pakistan and USA further loss of face (UPDATED 2X)

Oh boy. Here we go. According to Pakistan's The News, Inter Services Public Relations is denying that anyone was arrested:
RAWALPINDI: The Pakistan Army has rejected claims in the US media that the country's top intelligence agency ISI arrested some of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the months leading up to the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. A statement released by the ISPR read that no arrests were made and no major was being investigated in reference to the Abbottabad raid.
That does it for me; I'm not going to play this game. This is the last update.
A spokesman for Pakistan's army has denied the New York Times report that an army major was arrested in the sweep. “I can say with authority that all arrests were non-military.” Well, that pits the spokesman against the unnamed American officials who were sources for the NYT report. The sources are surely high-level. So for now I'm going to leave the rest of this post as I wrote it; even if Pakistan's version of the story turns out to be right, that wouldn't overturn my points.
See my 1:05 AM EDT post for background. The brave and patriotic Pakistani Army major who secretly helped the CIA gather information about doings at the mysterious Abbottabad compound has been arrested by the ISI, and probably on treason charges.

That's surely the case for the brave Pakistani civilians who also helped the U.S. government gather information on the compound.

Given the grave threat that al Qaeda poses to the Pakistani people and in particular the country's military installations the Pakistani informants deserve a medal, not arrest. However, that would be impossible given the incredibly stupid decisions made on both the U.S. and Pakistani sides in the wake of the Abbottabad raid. The die was cast with a phone call from President Obama to his Pakistani counterpart:
Analysis: The Silence of the States
by Myra MacDonald in London
May 24, 2011

When President Barack Obama telephoned Pakistan's president to tell him U.S. forces had found and killed Osama bin Laden, he offered him a choice.

Pakistan could say it had helped find bin Laden or that it knew nothing. President Asif Ali Zardari chose the former.

The exchange, recounted by a senior Western official briefed on the May 2 raid in the town of Abbottabad, illustrates the sometimes deliberate confusion over how far Pakistan is co-operating with the United States in fighting Islamist militants.

Unwilling to be seen as working too closely with a country which is deeply unpopular at home, Pakistan veers uncomfortably between trying to claim credit overseas while reassuring domestic critics it has not sold out to the United States.

Those two irreconcilable public positions, combined with a real and deep underlying distrust between Pakistan and the United States, mean that three weeks after bin Laden was killed, almost nobody knows for sure exactly what happened and why.

They may also be creating such strains within Pakistan that it is becoming harder to contain militants [terrorists, Myra!] who on Sunday [May 22] were able to overrun its naval aviation base [PNS Mehran] in the city of Karachi.

After telephoning Zardari, Obama announced bin Laden's death in a televised address and added that "it's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding."

A Pakistani official, asked about the exchange between Obama and Zardari, said Pakistan's military leadership had also been on board initially in saying they had helped find bin Laden -- a position reflected in early public and private statements.

But with emotions running high in both the United States and Pakistan, that early emphasis on cooperation disintegrated.

In Washington, CIA director Leon Panetta insisted the United States had acted alone because it did not trust Pakistan.

And in Pakistan, the second official said, the military leadership backed off its initial position after feedback from garrisons highlighted deep anger in the ranks about the breach of sovereignty involved in the U.S. helicopter raid.

Worried about a backlash from Islamist militants if it were seen to have helped the United States find and kill bin Laden, and insulted by Panetta's comments, Pakistan hit back.

Its political and military leadership, which official sources say initially welcomed bin Laden's death, began instead to criticize the United States.

Pakistan's parliament condemned the violation of sovereignty and called for an end to strikes by U.S. Predator drones in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
The choice Obama gave Zardari put Pakistan's military and Pakistan's civilian government behind the eight ball; it was surely (and correctly) read as an attempt at extortion because no matter which choice they took, if they didn't cooperate enough in the future with the USA an unnamed US official could always leak the information that they'd been given the offer -- which came to pass!

So the intelligent approach would have been for Obama to explain to Zardari that his initial announcement about the raid would not address whether Pakistan's military had been involved and then say to Zardari, 'After conferring, let me know you want us to handle this.'

Obama should also have instructed everyone in the Cabinet to say nothing to the press about the raid until the message could be coordinated.

But the Pakistani side acted in no more intelligent fashion than the American one. There was no way "the garrisons" could have registered anger at the violation of Pakistani sovereignty if they didn't know the sovereignty had been violated. So, somebody in the information chain on the Pakistani side had loose lips. This might not have happened if Obama had done something brilliant and told Admiral Mike Mullen to phone Kayani and in confidence break the news to him first. But even without that move, the Pakistani military and civilian leadership would have been in a position to swear to the sky that they'd been involved all along in planning for the raid, and that they'd given the U.S. top-secret permission to enter Pakistan's air space.

Of course Kayani couldn't see around corners, so he didn't know the attack on PNS Mehran was imminent and that it was most probably orchestrated by al Qaeda. And he couldn't know then that the PML-N, Pakistan's most powerful opposition political party, would suddenly do a 180-degree turn and announce it was fully supporting a war on terrorism in Pakistan, which it did just a few days ago.

What does the latter turn of events mean? Depending on how you want to look at it, it means former Pakistani PM and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif kicked the struts out from under Rawalpindi's pet excuse that it couldn't wage an all-out war on terrorism because so many Pakistanis were against it -- or that Gen. Kayani finally managed to twist some arms in the PML-N leadership. See the report at the end of this post.

But as soon as Kayani and the civilian leaders learned of the Abbottabad raid, they would have known that by saying they'd cooperated with the U.S. government, they could have fully shared in the triumph of catching the world's Number One terrorist. They should have stuck to that line come hell or high water. That would have given them a priceless public relations victory with the world's major governments and more importantly the world's major international banks, which by then were looking at Pakistan as Terrorism, Inc.

And once they tracked down the CIA informants who helped the USA nail bin Laden, they could have paraded that Army major as a great hero of the people and a sterling example of how dedicated Pakistan's military is to combating terrorism.

Too late now for the smart move. But at least the PML-N is wising up, at least for the time being:
PML-N for full-scale war on terror, at last

By Muhammad Akram
June 13, 2011
(Pakistan) Daily Times

LAHORE: With the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) now seeking a full-fledged war against the menace of terrorism and the eradication of terrorists from the country, the murky political atmosphere on this all-important issue is getting clearer.

It took one full year to bring about this change in the mind of the PML-N as Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who last year on the occasion of first death anniversary of Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, who was killed in a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-claimed suicide blast in 2009, urged Taliban to spare Punjab province since the government here shared their perception about America.

However, on the second death anniversary of Dr Naeemi on Sunday, the Punjab chief minister sought to eradicate the menace of terrorism in the country, only a day after his one-on-one meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani on the sidelines of a reception hosted by the prime minister in honour of visiting Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

Among other important events that took place from June 2010-2011 besides dozens of terrorist attacks across Pakistan include the successful hunt down of world’s most wanted man Osama bin Laden, who was killed by the US SEALs in a covert operation on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad and a terrorist attack on PNS Mehran allegedly carried out with inside support.

The PML-N has been the major centre-of-the-right-party in the country that has been shying away from demanding a war against terrorism alongside the religious parties like Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). However, the JUI started seeking a U-turn on its policy vis-à-vis TTP and other militant offsprings when its chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman was attacked twice couple of months back forcing him to confine his political activities indoor and make an unusual statement that ‘even the bearded are not safe from terrorists in Pakistan.’

PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif who had been riding high on the popularity graph among the followers of constitutionalism in the country following his principled demand on the constitution of an independent probe commission on the events of May 2 covert US operation in Abbottabad and terrorists attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi, had been avoiding till recently a direct tirade on the forces responsible for terrorism in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif during his address to a reference in memory of slain journalist Saleem Shahzad the other day though called a spade a spade on questions pertaining to decade-old issue of civil-military relations yet he was conscious and crafty enough to take position as far as the question of war against terrorism.

The welcoming words of his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif that defines well the PML-N position on war against terrorism only after less than 24 hour of his meeting with the army chief is enough to speculate that the murkier atmosphere is perhaps getting clearer on all the fronts.

Keeping in view the words of PML-N Nawaz Sharif that he and his party are on the same page on the issue of defining once for all the civil-military relations as envisaged in the constitution, it would be safe to infer that the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his party would be on the same page also on his declaring war on terrorism in the country.

The PML-N’s taking a clear position on war against terrorism and the forces of darkness would be a great morale booster not only for the PPP-led coalition government which had been waging this war for the last four years that has killed over 35,000 innocent citizens and more than 3000 soldiers. A defined PML-N position on war against terrorism would also be of great help for the armed forces who may have been rendered confused by a conservative section of society with the notion that the war on terrorism is a war of America and not of Pakistan.

With the PML-N getting on a just path on the issue that poses existential threat to the country, the political forces that are left on the other side of the divide would definitely get weaker, particularly the political landscape of the Punjab province.

The likes of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Tehrik-e-Insaf of Imran Khan who are not ready to accept the war on terrorism as a war of survival of the country would get weaker with the PML-N getting out of the phase of not stating thing clearly and keeping the issue on the backburner.

The JI, in fact, has got more clearer on the issue keeping in view the private discussions its leader made that of course are contradictory to the public stance of TI which appeared to be seeking religio-political inspiration from the former.

The political pundits predict a marked improvement in the working relationships between the PML-N and the PPP and subsequently the federal and the Punjab governments following Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s public statement on war against at terrorism at an all-important venue of Jamia Naeemia where Dr Sarfraz Naeemi was targeted two years ago on sectarian grounds. The political observers view as result-oriented and productive the meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen Kayani after a break of over a month as the two last met on May 2, when the US SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden in a covert operation.

The political observers are of the view that though the PML-N though has belatedly taken a clear position on war against terrorism yet it is important that it has come out of a mirage it has created for itself as being a representatives of conservative sections of Punjab province.

The political observers are confident that the PML-N would pursue its policy on war against terrorism as vigorously as it has been pursuing the principled stand on civil-military relations. And since the two are intertwined the success on one front would yield result on the other too, said the observer.

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