May 9, 2011 7
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.