The arrest of alleged CIA informants by the Pakistan’s military shows that the civilian government and the armed forces of that country are two separate entities, military affairs analyst Sebastian Gorka said.
The recent arrest of five Pakistani army personnel for allegedly passing on information to the CIA concerning the compound where Osama bin Laden was hiding before his death is “a wonderful example of why one cannot talk of Pakistan as a unitary nation,” Gorka, a senior military affairs fellow at the policy institute Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said during an interview with Radio Free Europe Thursday.
The prevailing notion among Americans, that Pakistan either knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts but did not share the information with the CIA or it did not know and is therefore incompetent, shows a serious misunderstanding of the reality in today’s Pakistan, he said.
“There is no one political elite in Pakistan,” Gorka stressed. It is not difficult to believe that the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had no idea that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad where he was killed, but it is also easy to imagine that Pakistani intelligence Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and military officials were “well aware,” he said. “Let’s be honest, he [bin Laden] was within a block and a half” from a Pakistani military establishment near the national capital of Islamabad, he added.
Many analysts in South Asia believe that Pakistan’s civilian government is not in control, as the Pakistani army and intelligence have enormous de-facto powers. Some believe that this dichotomy gained strength especially after the end of the military rule of General Pervez Musharraf in 2008.
The military, some of whose generals are used to playing a dominant role in the nation’s affairs, wants to maintain the nation’s dependence on it which can happen only if there is a perception of threat from both India – Pakistan’s main rival – and Islamist terrorists.
The Pakistani intelligence is known for supporting and using terrorist and insurgent groups for the country’s strategic gains and for its own purposes. It is also believed that Pakistan’s military and intelligence have heavily been infiltrated by Islamist extremists.
“Pakistan has a very interesting – to say the least – attitude toward the use of proxy forces. I have been in debate on Pakistani television with senior Pakistani generals, retired generals, who said there is absolutely no problem with creating, maintaining, and utilizing proxy insurgent forces on your own territory,” Gorka remarked.
Keeping the Pakistan’s government-military split in mind, sections in the Pakistani army could be trying to “divert attention consciously” lest their links to the terrorists are exposed, Gorka suggested. This is why “instead of hunting down those people who facilitated his [bin Laden’s] stay in Abbottabad, they [the military and the ISI] are trying to push and divert attention away from themselves.”
Asked to describe U.S. relations with the Pakistani army and intelligence, Gorka said the military in Pakistan had its own objectives, centered mainly on its rivalry with India, and the relations with Washington were all about monetary aid. Pakistan does cooperate with the United States, such as sharing of intelligence, but only in matters mutually beneficial for both sides, he added.
“The military has to be understood to be a world unto itself in Pakistan… On the one hand, the Pakistan military is driven – is truly driven – by the concept of having to fight another war against India. At the same time, they understand that they are receiving huge amounts of financial and military support from the United States, which guarantees very much not just their national security capacity but also the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed,” Gorka said.
Ever since India and Pakistan separated after the British left the region in 1947, the relations between the two largest countries of South Asia have been that of rivalry and suspicion and they have fought four wars. Pakistani army’s hostility towards India deepened especially after India helped Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, to separate from West Pakistan in the 1971 liberation war.
Gorka suggested that initial media reports about the arrest of alleged CIA informants could be misleading and that the possibility of the Pakistani army using the accused as “scapegoats” – due to anger among Pakistani people over the U.S. covert operation killing bin Laden – could not be ruled out.
Meanwhile, Washington, which depends enormously on Islamabad for the movement of logistic supplies for its operations in Afghanistan, has little option but to bear with the complexities of its relations with Pakistan, said B. Raman, former head of India’s external intelligence, in an article for a think-tank, the South Asia Analysis Group.