Pakistan’s Brutal Look at Itself

July 18, 2013

A draft report from Pakistan’s Abbottabad Commision, the blue-ribbon panel charged with investigated how the May 2011 American raid into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden could have happened, has leaked to Al Jazeera.  While the Express Tribune reports that there were apparently three competing drafts in circulation, and we have not seen the final draft, if this one is at all a good record of the Commission’s deliberations, it is evident that the members were seething with rage and in a take-no-prisoners mood.

Clearly the Commission doesn’t have much use for the United States.  The raid was a “stab in the back” and a violation of international law.  The United States was “arrogant” and “criminal” and guilty of the “serial murder” of Pakistani troops.  The CIA had stretched its “tentacles” into Pakistan and its apparent former CIA contractor Raymond Davis was a “killer goon.”

That said, America-bashing is only a subtext in this document.  Earlier this week, my fellow WOTR senior editor, Stephen Tankel, gave a thoughtful reading of the report and what its contents might mean for the U.S.-Pakistani relationship and I recommend his article highly.  In a strange way, the report is almost sympathetic to the United States.  For instance, it cites Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars to the effect that the US Government saw Pakistan as a “dishonest partner” and its Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) as having “six or seven personalities” including one which was financing the Taliban.  Then the report goes on to all but endorse these views.  And brings us to the focus of my piece: Pakistan’s security sector and the ISI in particular. I end with some thoughts on the U.S., Pakistan, al-Qaeda, and – of course – France.

The Commission was unable to determine whether the greatest national humiliation since 1971 (as they put it) happened as a result of Pakistani incompetence or as a result of connivance by rogue Pakistani officials.  The Commission was clear, however, that Pakistan was not a competent, credible partner for the United States.  In fact, Pakistan characterized by “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government,” and was becoming a failed state.  The country had a “two-faced” policy on drones and its ISI “had an unfortunate history of…association with militant religious groups.”  As a result, the United States, reprehensibly, but understandably in the Commission’s view, pursued its own interest—killing Osama Bin Laden—on its own and violated Pakistani sovereignty in the process.  “It is possible to understand if not agree with the US decision to unilaterally implement its special operations mission,” the draft says.

The report said that the US and Pakistan are not natural allies or strategic partners but theirs is “a necessary relationship about which governments in Pakistan have seldom been honest with their own people, leading to inevitable crises of expectations.”  The two often have overlapping interests and “at its best…[the relationship between the two] has been mutually beneficial.”  The Commission seems to hold out a hope—faint, perhaps, but real—that that mutually beneficial relationship could come to pass.  However, much work needed to be done first.

The Commission identified systemic failures from the top to bottom of the country and said that Pakistan must fundamentally change if it wanted to be anything more than a “banana republic” and if it wanted survive the numerous “existential” threats—most of them internal—that it faces.  These threats include “nihilistic and murderous organizations acting in the name of Islam” whose “dominance” in the country has had worse consequences even than “enemy military occupation” and which posed a “mortal threat to the existence of Pakistan” and which “has been the direct result of a…malignant interpretation of Pakistan’s values, interests, and security.”

The draft calls on the country’s highest leaders to apologize and then face judgment in the next election.  It found that Pakistan had no credible national security concept or grand strategy.  The non-military elements of national power were neglected.  The civilian Defense Minister freely admitted being irrelevant.

The Commission was most severe in its criticism of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies (One can’t call them a community).  In fact, there had been a “complete failure of the intelligence system.”  In essence, it found that the agencies fell into two categories, according to the Commission: those which operate beyond their remit (the ISI) and those which are incompetent, in part because they’d been shouldered aside by the ISI.  The Acting Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency wasn’t even aware that his agency had statutory counterterrorist responsibilities.  The Commission acidly remarked that he “demonstrated a woeful lack of efficiency and legal knowhow…as well as considerable ignorance.”  And the other agency heads got off equally badly.  It never occurred to the head of one agency that it might be worth putting out a report on the Abbottabad Raid.

Most importantly, the ISI did not keep on Bin Laden’s trail, did not dismantle terrorist networks in the region, and allowed extremists to launch attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan from Pakistani territory.  The Commission harshly criticized the intelligence agencies for not investigating the possibility of Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan when senior American officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started saying publicly that he was in the country.

Indeed, the Commission found that the ISI was a wretched partner for the CIA.  For instance, at one point, the CIA passed some telephone numbers to the ISI for monitoring.  It did not share the fact that these were numbers belonging to Bin Laden’s two assistants who were living with him on the Abbottabad Compound.  The Commission noted that “the reason for this duplicity by the CIA was because, rightly or wrongly, it did not fully trust the ISI to fully cooperate in the hunt for OBL.”  The Commission went on to add that, in fact, the CIA’s skepticism was fully justified, in this case at least; the ISI did not properly monitor the numbers.  The Commission seems to have thought that had the ISI been less dysfunctional and had it not “closed the file” on Bin Laden, Pakistan might have gotten Bin Laden itself or done so in visible cooperation with the United States, either one of which scenarios would have avoided the humiliation of the May 2011 raid.

The lesson from all this depends on who you are.

If you are Al Qaeda, it shows that you should have paid closer attention to the political environment around you.  Surely, Al Qaeda saw what the Pakistani Foreign Minister saw: that “the previous [Pakistani] administration had been flexible with the sovereignty of the country vis-à-vis the US and once such flexibility was displayed, the ability of succeeding governments to reverse the situation is compromised.”  Al Qaeda should have seen that Pakistan was closer to being a failed state than a weak one.  Why does this matter?  The answer lies in “Al-Qa’ida’s (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa,” a brilliant paper written several years ago by Clint Watts, Jacob Shapiro and Vahid Brown of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.  One of the important conclusions of that work was that Al Qaeda would find failed states to be inhospitable and would do better in weak states where “outside military forces could not conduct operations because…[of respect for their]…sovereignty, yet the state had little ability to interdict the terror group’s actions or effectively police its activities.”

If you are Pakistan, the report shows that absent drastic action, the country is going to suffer more humiliations as it slowly slides to destruction.  However, a reinvention of the political culture, orienting it on patriotism, honesty, clear-thinking, and competence could allow Pakistan to be a better place and a respected partner—both in cooperation and disagreement—for the United States.  Given America’s overwhelming power, this is a safest policy for Pakistan.

If you are the United States, this report says that in the short to mid-term the US was faced with a bad pair of choices: play nice with Pakistan and not accomplish any of America’s national goals or run roughshod over Pakistan and accomplish some of its national goals.  In the longer term, however, the United States would clearly be served better by doing whatever it can to help Pakistan reform itself.  A functional country that only sometimes has overlapping interests with the United States but is able to carry out its commitments and be a good partner when it chooses to is much to be desired.  We have experience with such a country: it’s called France.


Mark Stout is a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks.  He is the Director of the MA Program in Global Security Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Arts and Sciences in Washington, DC. He has previously worked for thirteen years as an intelligence analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and later with the CIA.