Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Pakistani Independent Commission Report on the Bin Laden Raid

[revised 7/15/2013]

When the US attacked the compound in Pakistan and killed Bin Laden, it of course set off a tsunami of shit inside Pakistan.   Apparently that one 90 minute action touched on every insecurity and annoyance that the people of Pakistan have about us, the United States, and their government with its ongoing controversies between civilian and military administration.  To address some of these issues, they set up a commission made up of a senior justice and a former military officer among others, and they went around talking to people and trying to answer in written form what could be concluded about what happened and to make recommendations to see that such things did not happen again.

The last time such a commission had been formed was in the aftermath of the partition of East and West Pakistan (e.g. Bangladesh) which was understandably incredibly traumatic for Pakistan.  That this incident should even be seen in that light is itself remarkable, I think, from our point of view.  We wanted to kill Bin Laden, sure, and we had good reason to want to do so as secretly as possible given the situation, but I am sure there was no intent to spark an existential crisis, but apparently we did.

There was no time limit on their work.  They could request to talk to anyone in the country at any level of the government that they wanted to talk to.  The Commission recommended that the report be made public and issued in English and Urdu.

But when the report was finished, it was not made public nor did everyone who the Commission requested to meet for their research agree to meet with them.

But last week, Aljazeera leaked the full document in English, minus apparently one page.   It is quite long, it is somewhat comprehensive, yet it is an easy read.   By skipping around things of no interest to you, you could read it in a few hours.   It has moments of humor (I guess this depends on your point of view) and it certainly has a lot of interest to recommend it.

As part of a remedial or refresher course in modern civics for the responsible adult, this is an excellent primary source on how other people in the world, or at least one group of respected individuals acting in an official capacity of another country see us.

The document is available at, at the following link.

Time Magazine has an article on the release of the report here:

Here are my notes having read most of the document but not yet the Appendices. 

1. The raid on Abbottabad seems to have been or perceived to be a humiliation for Pakistan which is far greater than it might have seemed to an American observing events.   To us, obviously, somehow Bin Laden managed to hide in plain sight in Pakistan, as we suspected all along, we found him, and we killed him.   But to them it raises issues of incompetence in civilian and military infrastructure at all sorts of levels, including their failure to find him, but also their failure to repel the Americans, the "betrayal of trust" between the two countries, and the presumption of vast penetration of the country by the CIA which is presumed to be hostile to Pakistani interests.  (1) 

2. The report seems to veer from intelligent and sober to emotional and paranoid.   At various times in the document phrases like "night of shame" serve to remind the American reader how powerfully this event shook their sense of pride.  The American raiders are referred to as "the murderers" for example, which seems a little off to me in the circumstances, and the question is asked why the army and the air force did not respond in time to kill the invaders.   Note, not stop the invaders, but kill them, outright, period.

3. Their is an implicit sense of a meltdown in Pakistan civilian administrative structure.  It is taken for granted that various elements of the local and federal civilian infrastructure failed in various ways, either through being understaffed, underfunded, insufficient training, corruption or incompetence. There is the sense that the military and intelligence arms of the government pushed the civilian law enforcement arm out of the way and that the civilian arm could not "carry out their responsibilities" and failed to respond to the event.  The report seems to indicate significant sensitivity to the issue of the competence of the civilian side of government, which makes sense in the context of what little I know about Pakistani history.

4. The report and the Commission seems to be obsessed with the assumption of "massive CIA penetration of Pakistan".    As Steven Coll's book on the history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan refers to, there seems to have been a very clear sense of concern about outsiders in Pakistan operating legally or illegally.   What is odd about this from my obviously US point of view, is that Pakistan is porous to tribal and criminal elements.  But the idea that extra visas might have been issued and that there is an assumed "vast CIA penetration of Pakistan" seems to be of immense interest to the Commission.   One gets the impression that there is a behind the scenes and varying agreement about what the CIA is and is not allowed to do in Pakistan but that they do not tell their citizens about this agreement who quite probably would not tolerate it.

5. There is a lot of good anecdotal information about the attack that is fascinating if somewhat contradictory at times.   We get good reports from the wives of Bin Laden and the wives of one of the two brothers who were his bodyguards.   And we get an insight into the lives of Muslim women in Pakistan.   We get genuinely new and contradictory evidence about what crashed when, and whether we did put people on the roof or not, how many helicopters when, and whether we had people who cut the power to that part of town at just the right time or whether that was one of their normal blackouts.

6. The Commission report makes the strong statement, several times, that there is no basis for a strategic relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and pretending that there is just causes misunderstandings on both sides.  If this was acknowledged, and that instead it was recognized that we had limited mutual interests and made public and formal agreements to achieve those limited interests, then everyone would be much happier, they say.  

7. The Commission believes that there is no evidence that official elements of the Pakistan government were shielding Bin Laden, but they agree that they can not rule out that unofficial elements might have been.  They attribute his success at avoiding notice to an extremely low profile combined with the near total meltdown of Pakistani infrastructure (to do such things as verify identity cards, approve housing construction, etc).

8. The major theme of the report was on the relationship between the civilian and military sectors of the Pakistani government.   This is not something I would have predicted before I read the report, it seems to be of overwhelming importance to the commission.

Its definitely worth reading.


1. In other words, even if they are correct about vast CIA presence in Pakistan, I would presume that they would be there as part of our joint Pakistan-US interests in that part of the world.   In other words, they should not apriori be assumed to be against Pakistan interests, at least not involving any of the issues we are discussing in this report or essay.  Are we not fighting a war together?  Are we not pouring in billions of dollars a year into Pakistan both directly and indirectly?  There is a whole other dynamic between the two countries and that involves Pakistan as a nuclear power.   This issue and the complicated relationship between the two countries because of this issue is never mentioned in the report.

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