The Bin Laden raid has caused a fierce backlash in Pakistan as the U.S. is accused of violating the country’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government now faces enormous pressure, at home and from the U.S., and has chosen to tote an anti-American line and deny any wrongdoing. This atmosphere is giving momentum to the government’s political opponents who are pushing it to become even more hostile to the U.S.
As written here last week, the Pakistani government had to know that the Abbottabad compound was built to hide a person of extremely high value. After all, a senior army officer lives right next door only 80 yards away. If it did not, then the country’s military, government and intelligence services are extraordinarily incompetent. Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, however, denies that is the case and portrays his government as being both competent and innocent.
“Yes, there has been an intelligence failure. It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies in the world,” Gilani said. He added that it is “disingenuous for anyone to blame Pakistan…for being in cahoots with al-Qaeda.”
He said that Bin Laden deserved to die but harshly condemned the raid and said “Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force” should a raid like the one that killed Bin Laden be repeated. “Any attack against Pakistan’s strategic assets, whether overt or covert, will find a matching response,” he declared.
Earlier, the Pakistani army said it would bring down the number of American soldiers in the country to “minimum essential” levels and the Army Chief of Staff said there would be a “review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States” if another raid occurs.
Gilani said an investigation into how Bin Laden was able to hide in Pakistan would take place, but it is doubtful whether it will result in any meaningful action. The ambassador to the U.S. said “heads will roll once the investigation has been completed.” This was contradicted by the Interior Minister who said no resignations would be necessary.
Gilani and the Pakistani government are being criticized for failing to stop the raid and are now trying to ride a wave of anti-American sentiment, with some angry over the death of Bin Laden and others angry over the willingness of the U.S. to act on Pakistani territory. About 1,000 people have protested in Abbottabad and between 800 and 1,200 protested in Quetta and called for retaliation against the U.S. for the death of Bin Laden. The Supreme Court Bar Association is planning nationwide protests.
A poll found that three-fourths of Pakistanis oppose the U.S. raid to kill Bin Laden and only 11 percent approve. A little more than half say that the county is at greater risk from Al-Qaeda as a result of it. The anger has caused some members of the ruling coalition and the opposition to stage a walkout and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has taken the lead in criticizing the government. He called the raid a “big blow to national sovereignty, independence and self-respect.”
“The Abbottabad operation was a serious attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan and the nation is looking at recent developments with concern and wants to know who is responsible for the situation,” Sharif said.
Another senior member of Sharif’s party emphasized that Gilani gave his speech in English and accused him of trying to “appease his [U.S.] masters.” Former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is asking for Gilani and President Zardari to resign along with military officials responsible for failing to stop the raid. He also wants the parliament to investigate the military.
Gilani runs the risk of losing support to his opponents like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and former Prime Minister Sharif because of the outrage. This is dangerous for the world because of Sharif’s past.
A document released by Wikileaks shows that the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan in 2007 described Sharif as “the author of Islamic radicalism in our region.” The president of Sharif’s party is alleged in another document to have told the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group of pending U.N. sanctions after it carried out attacks in Mumbai in 2008, giving it time to withdraw funds from its bank accounts.
In 1998, TIME Magazine wrote that Sharif “contends that only a strict adherence to Shari’a—which relies on the Koran and on the Sunna, a record of the Prophet Muhammad’s deeds and sayings—can save Pakistan from ‘corruption and maladministration’.” The article was describing Sharif’s move towards Sharia-based governance, not the application of a personal form of Sharia on an individual basis.
Former ISI officer and close friend of Osama Bin Laden, Khalid Khawaja, claims that Sharif met with Bin Laden multiple times and that Bin Laden helped him develop a relationship with the Saudi Royal Family. Ali Mohammed, who was Al-Qaeda’s special projects coordinator in the mid-1990s, says that Bin Laden gave Sharif $1 million for his favorable stance towards the Taliban. There have also been reports that Bin Laden contributed to Sharif’s campaign to become Prime Minister in 1990.
The Pakistani government now, out of political necessity if nothing else, must take a more forcefully anti-American position. The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has completely changed in the past two weeks and is likely to become even worse.