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'Pak Govt has surrendered foreign policy, national security to Army to avoid coup'

June 9, 2011 - Islamabad

Pakistan's civilian leadership has surrendered foreign policy and national security to the Army to avoid a military coup, according to analysts.

A government commission aimed at answering how Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden managed to hide in plain sight in Pakistan and how the United States located and killed him undetected has run aground, dampening popular hopes for greater civilian control over the military, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

An honest investigation into bin Laden's presence in Pakistan has the potential to pry open debate over national security policy beyond the circles of the military establishment, the report said.

But those who would welcome that have been demoralized by the civilian government's lack of fight, and now bungling of the panel, it added.

That's because "this commission on Osama bin Laden is meant and designed to ensure that nothing comes out of it," said Cyril Almeida, a political analyst in Islamabad.

"Civilian leadership has surrendered foreign policy and national security to the Army," he added. "The civilian government's only agenda is to serve a full term" by avoiding a military coup.

Pakistan has a long history of military dictatorships. Even when civilians return to power, as they did in 2008, they have given the military wide latitude on how to handle Islamic militants and relations with neighbours, the report said.

"I agree that the military has been responsible for pursuing certain policies, which have been detrimental to our interests, but why should the civilian government cede this space to the military?" says retired Brigadier Saad Mohammad.

He argued that the civilian leaders "are inept, they are corrupt. That's not their priority, they seem to be least concerned."

However, some of the government's critics say civilian leaders have reason to be scared.

"If they take the step of setting up a very strong commission ... their government may be in trouble," said Asma Jehangir, a top democratic activist and Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President.

She noted that a coup "is a threat, because otherwise why would a civilian government not want more power?"

Underlying various technical objections to the inquiry commission so far is the sense that some of the appointees have some biases toward the military. One appointee is a retired general, Nadeem Ahmed, who acknowledged that the commission is going through "hiccups," but once finally seated, will take up two key questions.

"One is the presence of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and all the issues related to it: Why? When? Where? Is it failure, or is it complicity?" he said. "Second, the US raid, which was not done with the Pakistan government: How it happened and why was it not really picked up in time?"

Nadeem said he has no preset answers: "I will go with a totally open mind and see things as they come on merit."


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