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Osama Bin Laden Episode and Pakistan's Dispirited Mercenary Army

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Four days after the Abbottabad episode, Pakistan's dispirited mercenary army, in a terse statement, called Thursday for cuts in the number of U.S. military personnel in the country to protest the US operation in Abbottabad that "killed Osama bin Laden." The army also threatened to cut cooperation with Washington if the U.S. stages more unilateral raids on its territory.

The army's statement issued after a meeting of Pakistan's top generals was the first since the raid.   It was apparently aimed at pacifying domestic critics who accuse it of failing to protect the country's sovereignty.

Pakistani army, the seventh largest in the world in terms of active troops, has been facing severe flak for being caught napping on the Abbottabad incident. Ansar Abbasi, commentator of The News, a leading Pakistani English daily asked:   Why should we raise and sustain the world's seventh largest Army, costing more than Rs600 billion per year, if it could not or does not counter such a foreign invasion?

Members of Parliament, newspaper editorials and political talk shows are calling for an explanation and challenging the all powerful army and intelligence establishment, the two institutions previously immune to public criticism.

The statement said Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani told his colleagues that a decision had been made to reduce the number of U.S. military personnel to the "minimum essential" levels. The U.S. has about 275 declared U.S. military personnel in Pakistan at any one time.

The statement did not refer to US suspicions that the army, or elements within it, may have sheltered bin Laden, but admitted intelligence "shortcomings" in not spotting bin Laden, who was living in Abbottabad.

The News said that with CIA chief Panetta and the entire American leadership showing their strategic teeth to Pakistan, the Pakistan military leadership has ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to this situation.

According to US Congressional Research Service, Pakistani military has received $ 8.881 billion between 2002 and 2010 for its unpopular operations against its own people in FATA, Swat and Northern areas.

Taking serious note of the assertions made by Indian military about conducting an operation similar to the one carried out by the US, the army made it clear that "any misadventure of this kind will be responded to very strongly".

As regards the possibility of similar hostile action against Pakistan's nuclear assets, the army reaffirmed that, unlike an undefended civilian compound, "our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place."

The New York Times Thursday said that the reputation of the army, the most powerful and privileged force in Pakistan, has been severely undermined by the American raid, raising profound questions about its credibility from people at home and from benefactors abroad, including the United States. "There is no doubt that the raid has provoked a crisis of confidence for what was long seen as the one institution that held together a nation dangerously beset by militancy and chronically weak civilian governments."  

According to International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2010 the Pakistani Armed Forces have approximately 617,000 personnel on active duty, 513,000 in reserve and 304,000 in its paramilitary forces giving a total of almost 1,451,000 personnel.

Anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan

Not unexpectedly, Pakistanis took to the streets on Friday, cheering Osama bin Laden and shouting "death to America" to condemn a unilateral US raid on their soil.

In Abbottabad, the town where bin Laden was reportedly killed by US commandos in a shock operation on May 2, dozens of people marched through streets after Friday prayers, calling on the United States to stay out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.    Setting fire to tyres and blocking a main road, the protesters yelled: "Down, down USA!" and "Terrorist, terrorist, USA terrorist."

A regional leader in Pakistan's main religious party Jamaat-e-Islami mocked Pakistan's powerful army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kayani. "You did not fulfill your duty. When they attacked, you were sleeping. Don't be afraid of America, come out of your air-conditioned room," Mohammad Ibrahim Khan told the crowd, waving banners that condemned the raid.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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