(Photo: Reuters/Athar Hussain)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Frayed relations between Pakistan and the United States following the Navy SEALs raid on Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2 are likely to collapse after a special joint “in-camera” session of Pakistan’s parliament on Friday unanimously passed a resolution condemning the U.S.’ unilateral action in Abbottabad in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, and called for revisiting and reviewing Pakistan’s terms of engagement with the U.S.
In an unprecedented development in the military-dominated history of Pakistan, Inter Services Intelligence Director General (ISI DG) Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha volunteered to resign by “surrendering” himself before parliament in what Information Minister Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan described as “accountability” for the intelligence failure to detect the presence of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad for five years.
Though the ISI DG, while briefing the joint session of parliament, submitted himself before the elected representatives saying that he was ready for accountability at any level, the military top brass skilfully turned the situation in their favor, throwing the ball into the court of the political leadership to take a decision and formulate a national security policy, which would be implemented by the armed forces.
“The ISI DG surrendered himself before parliament for a major intelligence failure and said he was ready for accountability at any level,” Awan told reporters after a briefing by representatives of the country’s security establishment to Members of Parliament. The briefing was followed by a long and hectic question-answer session that concluded around 1:30am on Saturday.
“The ISI DG also offered to resign when members of the center-right opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz pressed for fixing responsibility after the ISI’s admission of intelligence failure,” said a member of the ruling coalition.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman General Khalid Shamim Wyne, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) and other senior officials, including the defense secretary, attended the briefing.
A source said that when the defense secretary came to the rostrum to brief the MPs, the PML-N members began shouting and demanded that the ISI DG brief them. “When the ISI is accepting and admitting its failure, then responsibility should also be fixed,” the source quoted Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar as saying. Upon this, said the source, Lt. General Pasha volunteered to resign.
When Nisar said that the ISI DG talked politics, Pasha replied: “I too have complaints against you but this is not the day to make complaints. I don’t want to continue sticking to my position,” the source quoted Pasha as responding to Nisar’s demands of fixing responsibility. “If the Prime Minister wants me to resign, I am ready to leave here a retired officer… I accept the responsibility and apologize if any negligence is established,” Gen. Pasha was quoted as saying.
Though no MP asked the ISI DG to resign, the source said the general told the parliamentarians that he had wanted to resign but Army chief Gen Kayani asked him not to. He said that when the PML-N criticized the ISI and army for ignoring parliament while making policies on important issues, the military leadership asked the MPs to revise the policy on ties with the U.S. and the anti-terrorism campaign and said they would be ready to follow the changes, if any, suggested by parliament.
Another source said that during the session, Nisar not only locked horns with the ISI DG but also with PML-Q President Shujaat Hussain when he tried to take the floor and speak after the PM. The PML-N and PML-Q members shouted and raised slogans of “shame, shame” against each other following the incident. He said the ISI DG made it clear that national security was supreme and Pakistan could not, and would not, do what the U.S. wanted.
The PML-N’s estranged member Javed Hashmi, however, took a soft line and said: “The army has committed many mistakes but we forgive you.” He asked the ISI DG to share his responsibilities with the politicians.
The source said the situation turned tense when members of the right-wing JUI-F, like the PML-N parliamentarians, also got worked up and asked the ISI DG pointed questions. “Who had sponsored and financed the Taliban, you or us?” the JUI-F’s Attaur Rehman asked the ISI DG, who responded: “Let’s not indulge in a blame game, the country needs unity... the country is faced with a difficult situation and you are still in a divisive mood.” The JUI-F members staged a token walkout in protest against the reply.
Quoting the ISI DG, the information minister said a joint action to kill Osama bin Laden had already been planned and agreed to between the U.S. and Pakistani forces, but the U.S. took unilateral action, keeping Pakistan in the dark. “It’s not the time to leave the armed forces and the intelligence agencies in a difficult situation,” the minister said, suggesting that the government would not withdraw its support for the armed forces despite the opposition, particularly the PML-N, taking a tough stand.
“The May 2 US action raised many questions… we always shared bin Laden-related information with the CIA… when the U.S. helicopters were in action, the U.S. fighter aircraft were also airborne in Afghanistan and had we reacted, Pakistan would have suffered a huge loss as the U.S. aircraft would retaliate,” Awan said. She said it was a time for the opposition to act wisely. “There are no difference between the armed forces and the government… the nation should boost the morale of the armed forces,” she said.
Quoting the ISI DG further, she said the ISI had restricted bin Laden’s movement and it acted against all his associates and killing bin Laden was a common goal of the ISI and the CIA. “We provided initial information about Osama to the CIA… our nuclear assets are safe… the enemies of the country were out to attack national unity… the situation requires unity and synergy among all institutions… the ISI-CIA relations are strained,” she quoted the ISI DG as saying.
The minister also quoted the deputy air chief as telling the MPs that within moments of the beginning of the U.S. operation, Pakistan made an attempt to intercept the U.S. forces but the attempt was aborted as the missile-laden U.S. choppers were airborne inside Afghan airspace and could cause damage to Pakistan. The minister said no country had the technology to match the U.S. “The deputy air chief said the radars were very much functional but could not detect the US stealth helicopters because of the advanced technology used by the Americans,” she said.
When a member asked the deputy air chief when the drone attacks would stop, he turned to the PM and said: “When we will be asked to stop them, we will stop them.” But, the source said, the PM remained silent. The deputy air chief told the parliament that most Pakistani radars had been deployed at the country’s borders with India, including those which could detect the flights at an altitude of 10,000 feet and above while some of the radars could detect the flights even below an altitude of 5,000 feet. The deputy air chief was quoted as telling the MPs that Pakistan was not expecting the U.S. choppers’ intrusion from the western border.
The source said the MPs asked about the use of Shamsi airbase by the U.S. forces and were told that this airbase was under the control of the United Arab Emirates, on lease to the Gulf nation since the 1990s. “It’s a large area of 240 acres of land given on lease to the UAE and the Shamsi air base also comes in that area,” the deputy air chief said, adding that this airbase was now being used by the Americans.
The source said the ISI DG confirmed that bin Laden’s family was in Pakistan’s custody but no MP asked about proof to establish bin Laden’s death and the armed forces officials did not share details either. “The Pakistan Military Academy guards were the first to know about the crash of the helicopter and the army chief was informed at 2:05 am, by which time the helicopters had left Pakistani airspace,” the source said, contradicting what the information minister had earlier told reporters.
Another source said the ISI DG told the MPs that the armed forces were ready to thwart and give a matching response in case India took advantage of any situation and attacked Pakistan. “In case of any aggression, we will give a befitting response to India,” he quoted the ISI DG as saying.
The ISI DG was also quoted as telling the parliamentarians that bin Laden’s wife had told investigators that the U.S. SEALs had killed her husband and taken with them his body. “If the U.S. again acted in this way, we will resist and retaliate… we are fully prepared and ready but the decision has to be taken by the government,” the ISI DG said.
When asked what caused differences between Pakistan and the U.S., the ISI DG was quoted as saying that it was a principled position of Pakistan that any action on Pakistani soil would be taken by Pakistan’s armed forces while the U.S. wanted to dictate its own terms.
Meanwhile, the joint resolution passed by both houses of parliament condemned the U.S.’ unilateral action in Abbottabad, which it said constitutes a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. It strongly asserted that unilateral actions, such as those conducted by the U.S. forces in Abbottabad, as well as the continued drone attacks on the territory of Pakistan, are not only unacceptable but also constitute violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and humanitarian norms and such drone attacks must be stopped forthwith, failing which the Government will be constrained to consider taking necessary steps including withdrawal of transit facility allowed to NATO/ISAF forces; Unilateral actions cannot advance the global cause of elimination of terrorism and the people of Pakistan will no longer tolerate such actions and repeat of unilateral measures could have dire consequences for peace and security in the region and the world.
The resolution reaffirmed the resolve of the people and Government of Pakistan to uphold Pakistan's sovereignty and national security, which is a sacred duty, at all costs; Affirmed the resolve of the people and state institutions of Pakistan to safeguard Pakistan's national interests and strategic assets and, in this context, underscored that any action to the contrary will warrant a strong national response; Expressed its deep distress on the campaign to malign Pakistan launched by certain quarters in other countries without appreciating Pakistan's determined efforts and immense sacrifices in combating terror and the fact that more than 30,000 innocent Pakistani men, women and children and more than 5,000 security and armed forces personnel had lost their lives, that is more than any other single country, in the fight against terror and the blowback emanating from actions of the NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan; It called upon the Government to ensure that the principles of an independent foreign policy must be grounded in strict adherence to the principles of policy, as stated in Article 40 of the Constitution, the UN Charter, observance of international law and respect for the free will and aspirations of sovereign states and their peoples; Further called upon the Government to revisit and review its terms of engagement with the U.S., with a view to ensuring that Pakistan's national interests are fully respected and accommodated in pursuit of policies for countering terrorism and achieving reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan; Affirmed the importance of international cooperation for eliminating international terrorism, which can only be carried forward on the basis of a true partnership approach, based on equality, mutual respect and mutual trust.
It also affirmed full confidence in the defense forces of Pakistan in safeguarding Pakistan's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and in overcoming any challenge to security, with the full support of the people and Government of Pakistan.
It called upon the Government to appoint an independent Commission on the Abbottabad operation, fix responsibility and recommend necessary measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur.