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Pak public feeding on nationalistic rhetoric

delhi Updated: Jul 06, 2011 11:43 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Pakistani TV anchors are breathless, the government speechless and the people clueless. Was Islamabad aware of the US operation that took out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad?

Some of the most voluble ministers in the PPP-led regime are keeping their counsel. The Army brass is inaccessible, the ISI invisible.

Barring a bland foreign office explanation, there hasn’t been any detailed statement by Pakistan’s de facto or de jure power centres.

“In an intelligence driven operation, Bin Ladin was killed in the surroundings of Abbottabad…. This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with the declared US policy that Osama will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces wherever found in the world,” the statement read.

Busy as he is getting on-board the ruling combine the Quaid faction of the Pakistan Muslim League — whom the PPP branded as “Qatil (murderer) League after Benazir Bhutto’s 2007 assassination — President Asif Zardari hasn’t taken the mike to address his countrymen. But he claimed in a signed piece in the Washington Post that Pakistani authorities were unaware of Osama’s whereabouts and weren’t involved in any joint operation with the US in Abbottabad.

“He (Zardari) is working for the US, not the people of Pakistan,” said an Islamabad-based analyst. He found unconceivable that authorities in Pakistan were oblivious of “our defenses being breached and airspace violated by the US choppers.”

In his view people at the top, maybe a handful would’ve been kept in the loop. “The government’s stance is dictated by its anxiety to limit the right wing response to Osama’s killing,” he said.

It is for this reason that Zardari recalled, a la the foreign office, the 30,000 civilian casualties in his country’s campaign against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. But the knife now is cutting the other way. Questions in the public domain range from the legitimate to the sensational: if the Amercians could so easily take out Osama, they could also have taken Zardari hostage in his presidential quarters in Islamabad. Aren’t Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as much vulnerable to an identical US swoop?

National humiliation! That’s the sentiment on the rise, articulated forcefully by former cricketer Imran Khan and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) whom Zardari is trying to corner by tying up with the Q League and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) that is supporting his government from outside.

Such has been the hunger for information on the US operation codenamed “Geronimo” that Pakistani newspapers registered record circulations on Tuesday. The parallels experts in the industry made while tallying figures were with the 1979 hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the pistol bomb attack that left his daughter Benazir dead in Rawalpindi. In the days to come, they’d be gossip, conspiracy theories and nationalistic rhetoric from the Pakistani end besides US accounts of the Enemy Killed In Action (EKIA) in Operation Geronimo. All this does not bode well for Pakistan. And to some extent the US.