x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Duplicitous' Pakistani military faces growing calls for accountability

Revelations about the Pakistani military's duplicity, both with the public and the country's allies, have sparked a public debate that may result in greater checks on an institution that has always operated with a free hand.

Pakistani naval soldiers and relatives carry the coffin of Lieutenant Yasir Abbas, one of the 10 officers killed in an attack by insurgents on the Mehran naval air base in Karachi on Sunday, during his funeral in Lahore yesterday. Arif Ali / AFP
Pakistani naval soldiers and relatives carry the coffin of Lieutenant Yasir Abbas, one of the 10 officers killed in an attack by insurgents on the Mehran naval air base in Karachi on Sunday, during his funeral in Lahore yesterday. Arif Ali / AFP

ISLAMABAD // A fresh wave of leaked US diplomatic cables, highlighting duplicity in the Pakistani military's war against terrorism, has inflamed a political debate about the country's future foreign policy.

Much of the content of the new leaks was already in the public domain before the original WikiLeaks revelations in November 2010.

What is notable, however, is the timing of the fresh releases. Coming so soon after the killing on May 2 of Osama bin Laden, the leaks are proving significant for the Pakistani military, which has directly ruled the country for about half its 63-year existence.

The fresh releases have been made under an arrangement between WikiLeaks and Dawn, Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper.

Among them, a cable sent in May 2009 from Anne Patterson, the then US ambassador to Pakistan, talks about the embedding of US Special Forces' troops and intelligence personnel with Pakistani units fighting militant insurgents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The deployment of US units in North and South Waziristan has previously been well-documented by security analysts, who would benefit only from a few fresh details, like the deployment of the embedded Americans in Bajaur, the first tribal region to be targeted by Pakistani counterterrorism operations.

Before bin Laden's death, reports of US soldiers fighting alongside Pakistani troops had been dismissed as American propaganda by Pakistan's military, politicians and media.

But since the covert US operation on the al Qa'eda chief's sanctuary in the town of Abbottabad, just a short distance from a military academy, the same politicians and journalists are now pointing to the cables as evidence that the Pakistani military has been telling one story to Washington and another to Pakistanis - both of which are false.

The public debate within Pakistan is now focusing on the failure of the military to protect national sovereignty. Not so long ago, such a debate would have been unheard of.

At the time of the joint Pakistan-US operations in the Fata, the military's propagandists had created a nationwide paranoia about the presence of "Blackwater spies", a reference to the controversial US security contractor.

The dawning realisation among Pakistanis is that the controversy was created to stymie the growing relationship between the US and Pakistan's civilian government, because the military was excluded from political negotiations and had not been offered American military aid.

Another US diplomatic cable, written in July 2009 by Lynne Tracy, principal officer at the US consulate in Peshawar, quotes politicians voicing their frustration with the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani military's premier spy agency.

Afrasiab Khattak, a senator of the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, was quoted as saying the ISI had put pressure on the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to release a jailed militant leader, Sufi Mohammed.

Sufi Mohammed was to be used as a pawn in an operation to secure the surrender of his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, who led a militant insurgency in the Swat region of the province, and briefly ruled it under a peace agreement in March 2009 with the government.

The reported move is now being viewed as outrageous in the light of the Swat occupation, which put Islamabad within reach of the militants, sapped national morale, and fuelled an economic crisis that Pakistan has yet to escape.

Mr Khattak also reportedly gave details of the ISI's covert relationship with the family of Jalal-ud-Din Haqqani, head of the Haqqani Network, an al Qa'eda-aligned Afghan militant faction based in North Waziristan.

He even gave approximate addresses, including that of the half of the family resident in the garrisoned district of Rawalpindi, the Pakistani army headquarters, a half-hour drive from Islamabad.

The parallel with bin Laden's reported five-year residence in Abbottabad has not been lost on Pakistanis.

Even right-wing nationalists, many of whom have historically preferred military rule to flawed democracy, are now openly voicing their outrage at such "betrayals" by the military.

Momentum is also building for the accountability of the military and the ISI, neither of which have previously agreed to democratic supervision, and largely dictate the size and detail of the defence budget, which is a closely guarded secret.

The emerging consensus is that Pakistan's policies should be shaped by public and parliamentary debate, and clrearly stated so that there is no duplicity, either against the Pakistani public or Islamabad's international partners.

The first step, it is widely agreed, is to end Pakistan's covert relations with militants of all ilk and nationality, because their presence on Pakistani soil is as much a violation of national sovereignty as any US military incursion that targets them for assassination.

The military's carte blanche on internal security may well be lost, particularly its policy of kidnapping Pakistanis suspected of being al Qa'eda militants or Baloch nationalist insurgents.

Hundreds of such Pakistanis are "missing" and many turn up either dead, or tortured and on the verge of death, ruling politicians are saying for the first time.

The wider public call is for the implementation of rule of law and the constitution on all of Pakistan's state agencies.

That is as much a turning point for Pakistanis as the Arab Spring.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae