One of Pakistan’s most well respected analysts, Najam Sethi, has also commented on the Osama bin Laden killing and its ramifications. On his 40-minute Geo TV show ‘Apas ki Baat’ on Monday, May 3, at 11pm PST, he reconstructed the events and examined the possibilities and questions that arise. Sethi’s show has extremely high ratings, as I have heard. [There have since been developments that he has commented on in subsequent programmes - certain clarifications have been discussed, I have not been able to transcribe all the programmes unfortunately]
Unfortunately, the show is in Urdu. But I have attempted here to make a rough transcript. I have attempted to stay as true to what he said, in Urdu and Punjabi. Anyone who wants to watch it can go to his blog (http://najamsethi.com/ns/). I have not been able to transcribe a complete transcript word by word. But in essence this is what he said:
What we know right now is limited. We have a foreign office statement, we have a President Obama statement and the prime minister has echoed this. There has been no word from the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISPR. There is complete silence, darkness. [Please note that this programme was recorded on Monday night in Pakistan. There may have been developments since then].
First, let’s take a look at the statements that have been made. Then let’s look at the situation on the ground and see if we can piece this jigsaw puzzle together. Can we reconstruct the events or join the dots.
First, let’s take Obama’s speech. One, he is saying that we have reached this place with the help of Pakistani counter terrorism cooperation and in fact the compound also with their help. Obama did not need to mention the compound. He could have just said that our cooperation continued - that counter terrorism efforts and cooperation “led” us to Osama, to this compound.
From this, I understand that it was in our [Pakistan’s] knowledge, our approval, this entire operation. There was a high value target there, which could have been OBL. That the Americans, Pakistani intelligence, its army, leadership knew that there was someone there.
The other thing Obama mentioned was that “I telephoned President Zardari”. And they agreed that it was a success. Obama could have said that he had telephoned Zardari to apprise him, inform him [agah karne ke liye], that this has happened. Or he could have telephoned to tell him about a successful mission. You give information about a successful operation when both of you are going to do something – one of you is in one place, the other person is in another place. I am at the spot and accomplish the mission and then I telephone you and say, ‘Congratulations, mission accomplished… we’ve got the guy’. Then there is a response from the other end, accompanied by a sigh of relief that thankfully it’s been done [muk muka ho gaya].
The question is how much before did Pakistan know an operation would be conducted.
The third thing Obama said was that American forces did the operation, it was NOT a joint effort.
Remember, till today, 20 major al Qaeda leaders have been caught in Pakistan. In all these operations, it was a joint effort. First the Americans would identify the targets, and then Pakistani forces would capture them. And with great pride Pakistan would say that their forces had captured the men. These events took place in all the major cities of Pakistan. This was the only mission that was exclusively said to have been performed by American forces.
In fact, in Abbotabad, a few months ago, someone was caught. But more on that later.
So this is first operation in which the Pakistani Foreign Office and President Obama are saying the same thing: this was not a joint operation.
So the question is: if both of them knew that this was going to happen then why did the American forces do it alone?
There are two answers to this:
The Americans said to Pakistan that they would go it alone, they insisted they did it. We need to tell the American people that this was our operation, [they told Pakistan]. This was President Obama’s requirement. It would score points with the American public. In response the Pakistanis would have said, ‘oh all right’ without thinking what the Pakistani people would have to say about such an arrangement, that American boots are on the ground and our sovereignty is at stake. [The same debate surfaced over the drone attacks].
The other answer would be that the Pakistanis said to the Americans that they should go ahead and do this on their own as the Pakistani public was pro-Osama. Indeed, a PEW survey last year, conducted by the Americans, revealed that only 3 per cent of Pakistanis thought that Osama bin Laden was a terrorist. The remaining population didn’t think so.
So the Pakistani army and leadership did not [perhaps] want to take action against a man so “popular” with the people because in such an operation he would have been taken alive. Till today, American has not taken such high value targets alive. If the target is taken alive then the trial becomes problematic and the longer the person is alive the more they become a hero. They did the same thing with Che Guevara. They killed him, took pictures and buried him. As they have done here. He was buried at sea so no one could turn him into a hero, so no shrines are built, there is no hero worship.
We have cooperated, we’ve brought you to the compound, you’ve come yourself but that’s it. [Here Sethi’s humour surfaces].
Then there is the point being made that the helicopters came from Jalabad, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s radios were jammed.
According to my information, the helicopters did not come from Jalalabad. The Americans have a base at Ghazi Barotha, Tarbela. [In his May 4 programme, Sethi said that according to fresh information, they came from Jalalabad - needless to say developments continue] The Americans come and go from here. So, according to the information I have the helicopters did not come from Jalalabad, but here. And this information was known only at the highest level. Not the medium level. So that it was not botched.
I do not know at what stage this was communicated. The ground was prepared, Petraeus and Mullen did make visits and prepare the ground. There is no doubt in my mind this happened on their visits.
To say that the Pakistani radar system was jammed, they didn’t know what happened, were in the dark, for 40 minutes – I think they shouldn’t say this, that they were in the dark. Because people will then ask, how is it that billions of rupees and dollars have been spent on the army and it didn’t know when two helicopters flew? Tomorrow if India…
So to say this is an insult for the army. And even if someone in the army says this, that they were innocent, had no idea the operation was happening, that person should be taken aside and explained that this is not the thing to say. In fact, what would be better would be to acknowledge, admit that you knew. And that these were the reasons why. For the love of God, don’t say that you were asleep at the wheel, and 15 minutes from your cadet college this was going down and you had no idea.
And for another reason, this is a bad idea. People will ask, is this then the same policy you have for the drones? That you [Pakistan] wink at the Americans to signal go ahead, but then in public say that you are against it?
The Foreign Office condemned al Qaeda on one hand by saying that it killed 30,000 Pakistani civilians and at least 5,000 security personnel. But then it said that it had no idea.
There is only one explanation for this – Pakistan does not want to say it was involved because then al Qaeda would blame it and directly target Pakistani security forces and installations.
People are not crazy. On one hand you have such a big army, the ISI, which is compared to Mossad. You can’t fool people. They won’t accept the argument that the Pakistani intelligence was asleep at the wheel.
On Hillary Clinton, when she came twice to Pakistan she said that there were some people in the intelligence establishment who knew where Osama was. Some people, not at the highest level, but the medium level. They may not be hiding Bin Laden, but they were in the know.
When they caught people and took them away and there were interrogations. They realized that they were not using traditional ways to communicate. They were using couriers. In 2007, one man was focused on… [As most of this information has since surfaced, I’ve left out the ‘facts’ and focused on NS’s opinion].
Obama said what he said, there won’t be any “muddying of the waters”. But in the coming days, middle level US officials, journalists etc. will start asking how this could have happened. How could such a compound have been made. They will indicate that the intelligence agencies protected him etc. So on one hand, people such as Hussain Haqqani will say there was cooperation.
But what game was this, people will ask. American pressure will mount. North Waziristan . We won’t be able to answer these questions. Not a leave quivers and the ISI doesn’t know, but then, a tractor came and such a big compound was built…
We cannot understand or answer questions on how such a man came to be in such a compound. Then the US will say that you took us to the compound. The Americans will put on tremendous pressure. They will praise Pakistan and yet put on pressure. Your entire policy on the war on terror will be criticized.
If drone strikes increase in North Waziristan we’ll have to see if they are on the al Qaeda network spots or the Haqqani (Taliban) spots. If its al Qaeda and not Haqqani then you will understand that our beef isn’t so much with the Taliban and now we are preparing an exit strategy. So perhaps not the Haqqani network.
If this doesn’t happen. If the attacks continue, then you can understand that no deal or compromise has developed since Osama’s killing. The US will just say get out of the way.
Today, the FO’s statement that it was good Osama had been killed and Pakistan Army chief Gen Pervaiz Kiyani has never backed al Qaeda. The army has never said it supports or protects al Qaeda. After all they’ve lost nearly 3,000 of their men. (The Pakistan Army is about 700,000 strong). As a matter of strategy they may decide when and where to give up certain targets to get something. In Musharraf’s time, whenever he had a trip to the US he throw around a few bombs, catch some guys, hand them over and then go grab a steak at the White House with Bush saheb (all my paraphrasing from the Urdu).
In reaction to Osama’s killing, former president Pervez Musharraf has said it’s good but this is a matter of sovereignty.
What does he mean sovereignty? This handing over of people has been taking place since Musharraf’s time. According to Pakistani law you cannot hand over anyone. They have to face the law here. But this hasn’t happened in the civilian governments, in Nawaz Sharif’s time, in Farooq Leghari’s time. So it’s useless to talk like this.
When they have to hand someone over, they do and then all your sovereignty goes to the dogs.
Many people don’t believe in Pakistan that al Qaeda is the enemy. In fact, there is a mindset, created by the media among others, that anyone who is against America is our friend. That’s why for the longest time Pakistan said that this wasn’t its war. This is why there are people like Imran Khan (cricketer-turned-politician) who are now arguing that the US must leave.
But then you go to the BBC website where there is an entire list of people who they think are in Pakistan. And there is a considerable presence of al Qaeda in North Waziristan. And they say the No. 2 is here. And he’ll probably surface from somewhere or the other.
There is a complicated game now. This is less about terrorism now and more about Afghanistan. And Pakistan will want to make sure that whatever happens in Afghanistan doesn’t badly affect Pakistan.
And now we’ll see a lot of little attacks all over the world, in Europe, in Pakistan. And we’ll see that they’ll try to do something in India to strain Pakistan-India relations. They will try to take revenge from the Pakistan army and government. If it doesn’t do it then people will believe that al Qaeda has disappeared. They’ll have to put on a show they’re still alive.
The question is now if the US will withdraw from Afghanistan.
They have a commitment to withdraw troops. Obama will prepare for a next term. There will be more action, to uproot this menace. US has a long term interest in Afghanistan. They need to build bases there.
They will finish al Qaeda in Afghanistan and talk to the Taliban so that a non-al Qaeda friendly government is there. They don’t want the menace to resurface to also destabilize Pakistan, which would be dangerous as well.
Pakistan will want that whatever government is settled in Afghanistan shouldn’t be anti-Pakistan or pro-India.
[He then takes callers]
A little on Najam Sethi
Sethi is the editor in chief of The Friday Times, Pakistan’s first independent weekly and he was the editor of the Daily Times. I personally respect him a great deal because of the sheer breadth of his knowledge, his sources, his analysis and his intelligence. He was my editor at Daily Times and The Friday Times and made me the journalist I am today. He speaks at international forums as well and has been writing for years on Pakistan’s state of affairs. But most of all I love him for his killer sense of humour and ability to stay with the times and relate to young people.
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