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Gilani Gambles by Siding with Kayani

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani addressed Pakistan’s National Assembly tonight in Islamabad on issues surrounding the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. His speech, which was in English and began at around 9AM in Washington, was clearly aimed at an American audience. Gilani’s address, with its defensive and nationalist tone, appears to have been significantly influenced by the high military command. He met earlier in the day with Gen. Khalid Shamim Wynne, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.

The Pakistani military is letting the civilians serve as the public face of the government on this issue, as I noted last night on the John Batchelor Show.  Today,  Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said, “It is believed that people of Pakistan need to be taken into confidence through their honourable elected representatives.”

For the Pakistan Army, this is a multi-front battle.  It perceives it is being attack on all sides: by the U.S. military and intelligence services (quite literally), the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress and media, India (which spoke about  conducting unilateral raids in Pakistan), and critics in Pakistan who are angered at the violation of the country’s sovereignty and/or that bin Laden was hiding in a mid-sized city near the Pakistani heartland.

The army is also deeply concerned about internal dissent.  As a result, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani held a “very frank” question and answer session with army officers from three garrisons in Punjab.

Some in Pakistan have argued that the civilians should proactively use this low point for the army to reshape civil-military dynamics in their favor.  A less risky and perhaps equally efficacious path for the Pakistan Peoples Party would have been to take a back seat and let the military take the heat.  But Gilani has chosen to actively side with the military.  Perhaps it is his nationalist instincts coming in.  He is a son of the soil who has spent no time abroad in exile.  But he risks sinking with the military command.  Alternatively, if he and the military are able to ride this through, Gilani could have earned some brownie points with the military, and a lifeline for his government till the next elections in 2013.

This Passes for Journalism?

Eli Lake, national security correspondent for the Washington Times, has written a terribly awful story on concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.  Lake’s overzealousness in pursuit of a sexy Pakistani angle in the wake of the Osama bin Laden (OBL) raid comes to trump his journalistic professionalism.

There are five sources in the piece.

Three are unnamed U.S. officials who simply comment on the OBL raid.  They do not make any statements regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program, though this is the article’s focus and they would be the ones who’d have the best access to the latest intelligence that would raise fresh concerns over the safety of Pakistan’s nukes.  Their purpose in the piece is to give it some meat with their sheer presence, though they do not offer Lake any information on Pakistan’s nuclear program.  Their presence, in a way, allows Lake to write this in his lede:

…while U.S. officials and analysts raise concerns about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear materials.

U.S. officials never actually raise those concerns with Lake.  But Lake cites concerns about Pakistan’s nukes expressed in 2009 State Department cables revealed by WikiLeaks.  So no U.S. officials ever say anything to him about Pakistan’s nukes after the OBL raid.

So who actually makes comments to Lake about Pakistan’s nuclear program? The remaining two sources. And they prove to be quite weak.

The two remaining sources are Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA official, and Steve Rothman, a congressman who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

In light of allegations that the ISI or elements within it helped OBL hide, Heinonen expresses his concern that similar personnel within Pakistan’s security apparatus could assist al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations in gaining access to “sensitive nuclear materials.”  It is a legitimate concern, but it is laden with assumptions (e.g. that a person who would help OBL hide would also give him access to nuclear material and have the ability to do so).  And it is not based on any new information.

Rothman’s quote is really the heart of the piece.  And it’s completely wrong.

Lake writes:

Mr. Rothman said al Qaeda operatives in 2009 “came within 60 kilometers of what is believed to have been Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal,” though he could not elaborate on the incident.

Rothman — a consumer, not a producer, of intelligence analysis — incorrectly relates information he heard in a briefing two years ago. Blame it on fuzzy memory.  And though Rothman “could not elaborate on the incident,” Lake certainly could have done his own research.  Unfortunately, some journalists become overly dependent on governmental sources (especially unnamed ones).

In the spring of 2009, the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (not al-Qaeda) came within 60 kilometers of Islamabad (not Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — components of which are dispersed across the country). While the TTP represented a grave threat at that point, there is no available evidence that they had contacts with security personnel or the organizational ability to access Pakistani nuclear material.

The enroachment of the TTP may have “resulted … in new safeguards and new measures taken by the United States and Pakistan and others to minimize any possibility of anyone acquiring the Pakistani nuclear weapons or material.” But there is no evidence that these changes were made on the basis of specific threats to the nuclear program, rather than fears based on an overall deterioration of security.

Lake’s packaging of the article is very clever. But once one takes it apart, it becomes clear there’s nothing inside.

 

The bin Laden aftermath: Pakistan caught in a web of lies

My latest post at ForeignPolicy.com discusses the impact of the killing of Osama bin Laden on the Pakistani civilian and military leadership. Read it here.

Osama bin Laden Dead

US news sources report that al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has been killed in a “human operation” in a mansion outside of Islamabad. Big news. Too early to discuss implications. But the big question is: Did the US get him unilaterally or did the Pakistani government help?

Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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