Post-Osama strategic environment
Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal


America’s military men who conceived, planned and executed Operation ‘Geronimo’ (Abbottabad attack) deserve highest recognition for their professional competence. This brilliant operation will always be bracketed with its other prestigious cousins like Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (1941), Israel’s hostage rescue operation from Entebee (1976), attack on Iraqi nuclear reactor by Israeli (1981), etc. For decades, this operation shall be critically analysed at exalted military training institutions.

Such operations are few and far between and they leave lasting scars for those on whose soil these are executed. Americans are yet to forget their “Pearl Harbour.” It is unfortunate that Osama was in Pakistan and such a humiliating mission was conducted on Pakistani soil. Pride of a common Pakistani stands severely bruised. At the same time, this mission shall always be cited by the international jurists as precedent of blatant violation of the UN charter and international norms.Not withstanding the marvels by the boys at arms, Osama’s dramatic demise is likely to raise as many questions as it may be able to answer. It appears that mission was designed to proclaim Osama as dead with no provision for capturing him alive. Indecent haste in which his body was deposed off in the sea would always keep a question mark on the authenticity of the event. Given previous assertions of death of Osama, it would have been in the fitness of the things to arrange at least a transparent funeral if not a befitting burial for him. Orchestration of the event has generated an impression as if previously occurred death has been regularised through a well planned action to create an aura of “Mission Accomplished,” prior to drawdown. Marine Colonel Bob Pappas has been saying for years, that death of Osama might have taken places at Tora Bora on December 13, 2001, or any time later, as many such claimants have been postulating. One understands that conflicts like Afghanistan don’t end in neat; they do not give decisive victories for either side. And face saving extrication out of such wars is not an easy task; at times it involves gimmicks of the sorts.Initial comments by President Obama and Hillary Clinton were prudent and well thought out; both acknowledged Pakistan’s cooperation in the event. Our political leadership joyously jumped the bandwagon to take the credit, as if it was a joint Pak-US venture. Nevertheless, real punch was to come from CIA chief Leon Panetta’s venomous assertion that they kept Islamabad out of the loop on the operation because it could jeopardise the Abbottabad operation and “might alert the targets.” Panetta indeed came out in the true colours of an “Ugly American”. Too eager to deny even an iota of credit to his arch competitor ISI, Panetta went ballistic to the extent of embarrassing President Obama by contradicting his statement. He did it earlier also when he made Obama go public on the issue of diplomatic immunity of Raymond Davis. Of now, Panetta has settled his score with ISI which was overdue since rubbing of his nose in the dirt in case of Raymond Davis fiasco. In his fervour, has also dismantled the strategic gain by irreparably rupturing the alliance of the world’s two finest intelligence outfits; whether he has the last laugh is yet to be seen. With likes of Panetta around, terrorist outfits do not need much else to survive and thrive. Strategic impact of this significant event was lost too rapidly. Instead of strengthening the relationship between the US and Pakistan, it turned out to be another Pakistan bashing spree. In the absence of any meaningful post mission brief, media in both the countries went bizarre; anchors were too keen to scale new heights of speculative reporting and mudslinging. Pakistan’s military leadership chose to stonewall for over three days; that gave credence to the speculations that it is not on the same page with the political leadership. No one requisitioned the session of parliament; battalions of new ministers kept taking oath. Interactions with Americans continued uninterrupted as if nothing had happened. It was indeed a strategic collapse of Pakistani leadership that left the masses in a lurch; literally no one was to turn to for a factual picture, also no one was there to provide a healing touch to a common Pakistani, whose ego had been severely hurt. During this tenure of information void, rumours were rife as if political leadership had entered onto some understanding with Washington while circumventing the military leadership and had covertly permitted the conduct of operation. If Panetta is right and the entire operation was a unilateral action by America, those responsible for military response to such intrusions will have to answer many questions. And as it has been conceded that it was an intelligence failure, ISI will have to work very hard to clear this ugly blot. A majority of Americans approve of President Obama in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Event of this magnitude was bound to create a spike in Obama’s approval rating; however, this is not the beginning of the end of al Qaeda. Despite huge symbolic loss, Osama’s death does not present an existential threat to the movement. In all probability, al Qaeda will not die with him. More than a physical entity, al Qaeda is now a mindset and unless the causes leading to this mindset are addressed, the trouble would go on.As expected paper tigers of India are getting primed to claim credit that they could also emulate American action. Indian Army Chief, General VK Singh, said Indian armed forces were “competent” to carry out a similar operation. “I would like to say only this that if such a chance comes, then all the three arms (of the military) are competent to do this,” Singh told reporters. Indian Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik, also joined the melee by saying that India has the capability to carry out such surgical strikes against terrorists. He said, “India can do it.” Rhetoric apart, hopefully Indian services chiefs know the limitations of the forces they command. They need to take a cue from their Home Minister who was more realistic in his approach. He conceded that India could not replicate the American performance, he said: “I’ll tell you why, “We don’t have our forces on Pakistani soil. We are not invited there. We don’t have any support from Pakistan. We are both nuclear weapons states.”Home Minister’s point was carried forth by a budding Indian strategist who wrote anonymously on one of India’s defence related blog: “The Pakistan government will agree to US strikes but not Indian because we are rivals. They will definitely engage us if we intrude into their airspace.” Indian strategist community has widely questioned whether India had the capacity to do so. India is not America, certainly it also does not have the capability but it is suffering from an acute superpower complex. It tends to sleep walk American trajectories. It is likely to be tempted to behave in a similar way. Undoubtedly, in case of such a misadventure India shall court a disaster. Those responsible to generate response to Indian misadventure surely know their job very well.