In something of a volte-face, the National Assembly Speaker, Ayaz Sadiq, has suggested that instead of constituting a parliamentary commission to investigate the claims made by ex-ambassador Husain Haqqani, that the matter be referred to the foreign affairs committee of the lower house. The head of the NA foreign affairs committee said that the speaker was ‘averse’ to the concept of creating yet another body to conduct the inquiry. It is now being proposed that the FA committee will initiate consultations with the defence minister, as well as the opposition parties, and there also appears to be an intention to involve the NA committee on defence in the proceedings. All this stands on its head the agreement regarding the formation of a commission only 24 hours earlier that had virtually unanimous cross-party support.
There can be no doubt that the allegations made by Mr Haqqani require the closest of scrutiny, and that in the daylight rather than in the crepuscular gloom of some political basement. Also needing to be dragged into the daylight, and in parallel with any inquiry into the doings of Mr Haqqani, as well as his political masters, is the completed and final version of the Abbottabad report into the killing of Osama bin Laden. This has been suppressed by the government, the inescapable conclusion being that names are named and there are individuals and organisations that do not come out well and the government wishes to avoid embarrassment. Be that as it may, the killing of Osama bin Laden is one of the defining events of the national narrative in the last decade, and the public has a right to know the precise circumstances surrounding it. Pairing a release of the Abbottabad report with an inquiry into the deployment of CIA operatives in-country may be excruciatingly difficult for the government, but if it is to hold on to a shred of credibility then nettles have to be grasped.
It is possible to understand the perspective of the speaker of the house. Parliamentary committees may be at least in theory the eyes and ears of the house, but there seem to be few instances in which they may be competent to conduct a probe into a matter as sensitive and complex as this. Committees such as this have no investigative powers — a detail probably known to those so quick to support the formation of a committee in this instance — and some have already raised doubts as to their overall competence. This in itself is a sensitive area. Not all members of the National Assembly may have the skills necessary to conduct an investigative inquiry, and finding members to create a credible commission that was able to transcend party lines may not be easy, and given the fraught nature of the Osama bin Laden affair in the broadest sense and the civil-military relationship — yet more difficult.
What the Haqqani affair also brings into sharp focus is the role of ambassadors posted abroad. They are invariably, particularly in posts within the EU, the Americas and the UK — political appointments. They carry a considerable burden of responsibility and a degree of operational latitude. It would appear that Mr Haqqani was operating within the law if perhaps not strictly within ethical frameworks, yet he was not acting independently but following the orders of an elected government which in turn appears to have been working with, if not actually at the behest of, the Americans.
Whatever the issues of capacity or competence a mechanism must be found by which clear and unequivocal conclusions may be reached on the actions of all those involved with events surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. The nation deserves and expects nothing less.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2017.