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."
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."
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.
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."
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.