May 10th, 2011
04:25 PM ET

Pakistan's government remains defiant in face of bin Laden criticism

By Omar Waraich, TIME

ISLAMABAD – Anyone hoping to see Pakistan's civilian government hold the country's powerful military establishment to account over Osama bin-Laden will have been disappointed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's speech Monday.

Eight days after the raid that killed bin-Laden in Abbottabad, Gilani addressed his people for the first time. Speaking in parliament, he hailed bin-Laden's demise as "justice done," but fiercely defended the Pakistan Army and its premier intelligence agency, the ISI, and warned Washington against any further such raids.

Gilani derided any suggestions that Pakistan's commitment to fighting extremism - a fight that has cost Pakistan 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel - and put the blame for the bin-Laden debacle outside Pakistan.

"Pakistan alone cannot be held to account for [the] flawed policies and blunders of others," he said, in one of many, thinly veiled anti-U.S. jibes that peppered the speech. "Pakistan is not the birthplace of al-Qaeda. We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan or even to Afghanistan," he added.

There was even an oblique reference to Zbigniew Brzezinski's 1980 exhortation to the mujahideen, calling on them to taken on the Soviet occupiers, "because God is on your side."

The Prime Minister conceded that bin-Laden's presence in Abottabad had been an "intelligence failure". But, he insisted, that failure "is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world." Indeed, he claimed, it was the ISI that had furnished crucial intelligence leads that ultimately led the Americans to bin-Laden, and it had been the ISI that had seized 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Indeed, the ISI is a national asset," Gilani said, "and has the full support of the government. We are proud of its considerable achievements in the anti-terror campaign."

(See stills from the videos found in bin Laden's compound.)

Gilani's fulsome praise of the ISI embarrassed even some of his party's own lawmakers who have long criticized its role. Often described, and feared, as a "state within a state," it stands accused of rigging elections, boosting jihadist proxies, and destabilizing governments, including Gilani's own. Human rights groups accuse it of a litany of abuses, including disappearances and torture. "They're definitely overbearing," Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the opposition, tells TIME. "They definitely cross the limits of their legal and constitutional powers. They get involved in matters that do not concern them."

(See TIME's video: "Inside the Raid to Kill Osama bin Laden.")

The bin Laden operation was a major blow to the ISI's prestige and carefully cultivated image of an intelligence agency capable of confronting all threats posed to Pakistan. "They're not as almighty as we make them out to be," says opposition leader Khan.

"One, clear manifestation of that is they didn't know what was happening under their noses." Some have suggested that, as a result, ISI chief, Lieut. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha should resign, but Gilani made clear that he was not going to move against the intelligence agency.

For the Pakistan's generals, the embarrassment of bin-Laden's whereabouts appears to have been eclipsed by what it sees as the world's first invasion of a nuclear-armed U.S. ally. They have made it plain that they will resist any further such operations in the future - a vow enthusiastically echoed by Gilani: "Our people are rightly incensed on the issue of violation of sovereignty as typified by the covert U.S. air assault," he said.

(See pictures of Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout.)

Sovereignty is a popular buzzword in Pakistan at the moment. Scarcely does a day slip by now without opposition politicians and retired officials lamenting its erosion. The extent to which the U.S. has been able to progressive intervene directly in Pakistan - either through drone attacks, or CIA contractors like Raymond Davis, and now the Navy SEAL ground operation - has become a focus of national outrage. The difficulty for Pakistan is that it has been quietly signing its sovereignty away for years, albeit with some red lines.

"This incident is a clear violation of a very clearly pronounced red line from Pakistan that there will be no boots on the ground," Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the former Foreign Minister, tells TIME.

But that claim has now been thrown into question after the Guardian of London revealed that former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf had entered an agreement with Washington ten years ago that allowed U.S. forces to pursue bin Laden on its soil. "The Pakistan army doesn't care much for sovereignty," says Farzana Shaikh, Pakistan expert at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs. "But right now it's the only way in which it can salvage its reputation."

(See a gallery of TIME's 'X' covers.)

Although Pakistan has launched an internal inquiry into the bin-Laden matter, it will be conducted by the Army's adjutant general rather than the civilian political authorities. "My fear is that this will be a whitewash," says analyst Shaikh, "another attempt to rehabilitate the military. It is very likely that the military will emerge with its image pretty much intact." The prospect seems to be of some junior intelligence officers being purged.

It's a decision that the government may come to regret. "This was a hugely missed opportunity for the political leadership to rein in the military and its intelligence services," says Shaikh.

In her eyes, this was the first time since the aftermath of the civil war that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 that Pakistan's civilians were presented with such an opportunity. The reason why they have chosen to pass it over, she says, is a single-minded determination to hold on to power.

Gilani's government has just become the longest-serving civilian democratic government since 1977. Now, with its parliamentary majority fortified by the ranks of new junior coalition partners, it stands a chance at an unprecedented reelection. "The government is much more concerned with its survival," says Shaikh. Toward that end, it seems prepared to continue reading from the army's script.

Already, it has ceded its prerogatives in matters of foreign policy, national security and elements of economic policy. Now even parliament seems to be under its sway. Gilani announced that the Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will be addressing parliament on Sunday for a rare, closed-door briefing. After his speech, the military issued a press release, stating that the briefing was Kayani's own idea, proving again where power continues to lie in Pakistan.

(See TIME's Full Coverage of Osama bin Laden's Death.)

Topics: Pakistan

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Nurul Aman

    Pakistan is the number one problem for world peace for many reasons. First, a large faction of military and Intelligence branch (ISI) is supportive of terrorists; second, some political parties in Pakistan are Islamic based and believe in the Jihad of Islam to kill innocent Western people; third, the constitution of Pakistan is based on Shariah Laws guided by blasphemy laws, bigotry and prejudice; fourth, the Whabi movement guided and financed by Saudi Arabia has turned that country into extremist society through training the brilliant youth into violent class; fifth, the Taliban institution has become the part of that society across the country with strong forces inside and outside the government. Having said that, the terrorist cells are probably every part of the country in Pakistan as a new wave of jihads against the West. That is the their way life probably. If that is the case, US cannot afford to keep the friendly relationship with Pakistan and pay billions to fight terrorism. The US must ask India to help and deal with Pakistan with strict accountability.

    May 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Reply
    • Jal

      Do you have any proof of your allegations or is it like the USA fairy tale of killing of Osama and dumping him in the sea and the 9/11 Tale of Towers or the Iraqi, sorry Saddam's. Weapons of Mass Destruction?
      You have gotta be a genetic idiot to believe that Pakistan was not a peaceful country before the grr8 USA President Bush threatened it with the phrase "You are with us or against us."
      If you have eyes to see you will discover that the real hotbed of terrorists is USA! Just recently a USA-CIA terrorist called Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in cold blood.
      Thus , I see red when stupid mindless guys like you start pointing finger without any idea!
      However, as you say, it will be a good idea if USA were to stop its aid to Pakistan. In fact USA will be doing Pakistan a favour. Collectively Pakistan is so fed up with USA and guys like you that it simply wants USA to get off its back. USA has more criminals to deal with than any other country in the world. It should take care of them and loud mouthed guys with little knoledge like you!

      May 11, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Without its nuclear arsenal the West, especially the U.S. wouldn't be bothered with Pakistan's internal affairs. It's the nuclear factor coupled with dangerous elements within the military and intelligence that pose stability in the region. The civil society is small and the masses have their daily problems. If Pakistan wants to be taken seriously as a modern state, it has to tacke its problems soonest possible, as it takes two generations to catch up.

    May 11, 2011 at 5:31 am | Reply
  3. OpinionIndia

    Many a Time ,Pakistani politicians refer Indians as Hindus to project the neighbor as Villain

    we(Indians) don't train in terror camps to blow up markets like you( your section of terrorists from Lashkar-i-Tayabba who are Pakistanis )

    we don't sail from Karachi to Mumbai and go on a shooting rampage unlike you(Pakistanis)

    we are not implicated from the west as Non resident Pakistanis in Mumbai terror plot unlike "Muslim Pakistani " HUSSAIN RANA

    we are not implicated from the west as Non resident Pakistanis in Mumbai terror plot unlike "Muslim Pakistani " david headley ( changed his muslim pakistani name to a western name )

    we are not caught plotting the TIME SQUARE BOMB PLOT

    WE ARE NOT CAUGHT SHELTERING BINLADEN FOR 5 YEARS

    WE ARE NOT SHELTERING MUMBAI ATTACK MASTER MINDS ( ISI CHIEF PASHA), HAFEEZ SAEED

    WE are not giving guest visa to DAWOOD IBRAHIM (Terrorist WANTED BY US and India)

    we are not implicated from the west as Non resident Pakistanis in Danish terror plot

    Extremism is Rampant in PAKISTAN , NOT India which is secular and tolerant

    PAKISTAN SHAME SHAME

    GOD What a MENACE this country ( Pakistan ) has become to the WORLD !!!

    May 14, 2011 at 9:43 am | Reply
    • Rambilas Paswan

      Well said! As an Indian from the state of Bihar I agree 100%
      India and Pakistan [and Bangladesh] were one countries before 1947 so you will find same amount of treachery. Still both countries regularly burn women blaming them of witchcraft. India is diverse and people of one state hate people of other states so this is the only factor that keeps the checks and balances on who will rob more. And India is a Hindu state the most liberal religion with many exceptions such as burning women for dowry after marriage if the amount was less. Times of India reported that a newborn girl was allegedly buried alive by her family members along with her twin brother who was weak and did not survive. So Indians have no time for hatred or time for aggression towards Pakistan. Indians are just plain b@$t@rds. Sorry to say I am one of them. I want to change this and in Pakistan too. Pakistan is too religious so no matter how much funding it gets it will not change. Pakistan will carry on their nuisance in their ugly "lungis" [Lungi is a thin skirt for men to hold f@rt]. Enough knowledge for today- Jai Hind

      May 17, 2011 at 9:40 am | Reply
  4. OpinionIndia

    For Pakistanis who say US should leave the region, here is the response :

    Why should USA leave the region,US would not have come unless Sept 11 happened from the region which included Paki conspirators 🙂 .Before sept 11 , Pakistan was supporting Taliban in Afghanistan 🙂 the only nation on earth ( probably saudis also) .Then after US started bombing Afghanistan , Pakistan had to shamefully airlift 16000 Paki soldiers from Afghanistan who were with the Taliban 🙂

    You Pakistanis should leave the region or go to another planet.We wish we can catapult you and your people across to another planet 🙂 as we believe in value of human life , we don't wanna harm you 🙂 , but we just don't want you to be on earth 🙂 .

    You can settle in the this neo planet and then fight among yourselves( we know how shias are attacked in your country and there will be no use of your Blasphemy law, we will gladly take your minorities ) as you will have no neighbours..No India or America or Israel 🙂

    May 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  5. OpinionIndia

    😦 😦 PAK TERROR 😦 😦 PAK TERROR 😦 😦 PAK TERROR 😦 😦

    Chief Foreign affairs correspondent of CBS Lara Logan after speaking to "top Intelligence and Military officials in the United States" says that all of them are UNANIMOUS THAT

    IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT PAKISTAN DID NOT KNOW THE LOCATION OF BIN LADEN 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS HIDING OUT IN THIS CITY WHICH IS CRAWLING WITH RETIRED MILITARY OFFICIALS OR MILITARY CADETS(PAKISTANI) OR ACTIVE MILITARY PERSONNEL ...

    THIS COMPOUND WAS 8 TIMES LARGER THAN ANY OTHER BUILDING IN AREA...IT IS IMPROBABLE THAT PEOPLE LIVING IN THAT CITY ( ABBOTABAD ) , LET ALONE MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT HAD NO IDEA ,NEVER ASKED A QUESTION ABOUT IT, ...

    IF IT CAME TO THE ATTENTION OF US INTELLIGENCE THEN IT CENTAINLY WOULD HAVE COME TO THE ATTENTION OF PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE,THEIR MILITARY BRASS,

    ..MOST OF THE OFFICIALS SAY THAT PAKISTAN HAS BEEN LAUGHING AT THE United States , LAUGHING IN THE FACES OF THE AMERICANS BECAUSE THEY HAVE KNOWN ALL ALONG THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN IS THERE

    AND PAKISTANIS STOOD UP AND SAID THAT OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS NOT IN PAKISTAN .....

    BUT NOT ONLY IS HE IS PAKISTAN ,BUT HE NOW ,TURNS OUT TO BE RIGHT AMONGST THE "MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT" ITSELF

    PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS FOUND "DEEP INSIDE" PAKISTAN

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y723IjRAcKg&w=640&h=360]
    ..NOT IN THE BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN , NOT IN CAVE

    MOMENT OF TRUTH HAS ARRIVED ...WORLD SHOULD DISMEMBER PAKISTAN , IMPOUND ITS NUCLEAR WEAPONS THEN GO FOR A WAR TO ELIMINATE ALL TERRORISTS HIDING INSIDE PAKISTAN

    AMERICAS GREATEST ENEMY IS NOT AL QAEDA, ITS PAKISTAN 😦 😦 😦 😦

    😦 😦 PAK TERROR 😦 😦 PAK TERROR 😦 😦 PAK TERROR 😦 😦

    May 17, 2011 at 4:05 am | Reply

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