Calls Grow Louder For Probe Into Pakistan's Military
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The American operation that ended the life of Osama bin Laden has begun wrenching change in Pakistan. The raid is only one of a series of events in recent weeks. All of them signal that Pakistan's powerful military is under pressure in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few months ago. And these events are reshaping the political landscape.
We should warn you that the first three minutes of this next report may, in some places, be disturbing. Here's NPR's Julie McCarthy.
JULIE MCCARTHY: Just as Pakistan was getting over the shock of the bin Laden operation, a disbelieving public watched as militants laid siege to Pakistan's naval complex in Karachi.
(Soundbite of sirens)
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: The ordeal, covered minute by minute on live television, revived memories of the takeover of the army headquarters in 2009, and raised suspicions about extremists penetrating the navy this time and pulling off an inside job. A short time later, a prominent journalist who'd written about al-Qaida links to Pakistan's navy was kidnapped from one of the most secure roads in Islamabad.
Saleem Shahzad had documented his problems with the ISI, the country's ubiquitous intelligence agency, and left a statement blaming the ISI if he were harmed. He turned up June 1st, dead.
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MCCARTHY: Outraged journalists demanded a judicial inquiry, and the chief justice last week ordered a commission to find and punish Saleem Shahzad's killers. The ISI stoutly denies any responsibility.
As the public was absorbing the murder of the Asia Times Online bureau chief, another incident in Karachi this month ignited a national furor.
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MCCARTHY: This caught-on-camera killing shows a Pakistani ranger shooting at point-blank range an unarmed teenager suspected of stealing. As he pleads for help in a pool of blood, the video captures Sarfaraz Shah's life ebbing away. The rangers did nothing as he laid dying. The killing, seen by millions, infuriated Pakistanis tired of impunity and already fuming over their armed forces' apparent incompetence in connection with the American raid on bin Laden.
Mr. TALAT MASUD (Retired Pakistani General): And they are challenging its performance, they are challenging its policy, they are seeking accountability, they are seeking results.
MCCARTHY: Retired Lieutenant General and defense analyst Talat Maud says a new landscape is emerging in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, which he says kicked open the door to unprecedented public anger about everything from the military's unpublished budget to the lavish way its elite officers live.
Mr. MASUD: It's one of the most extraordinary changes that are taking place in Pakistan. All the sacred cows are being challenged: the military and the military leadership; the intelligence agencies, including the interservices intelligence agency, the ISI. And the whole myth and aura that surrounded the military is over.
Mr. NAWAZ SHARIF (Opposition Leader): (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif now confronts the military and the ISI in ways few would have dared even two months ago. A promised commission to probe the U.S. raid on bin Laden, and the inquiry into the murder of journalist Shahzad, were mired in weeks of delays. Sharif presses the question...
Mr. SHARIF: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: Which hands are preventing the investigations? he asks. Which hands do not want to trace the murderer? Who is involved in such heinous crimes? he asks. Who is pushing Pakistan in this direction?
As questions mount, Pakistan's military and intelligence community have assumed a defensive crouch. And they've lashed out - rounding up residents in Abbottabad, where bin Laden lived; accusing them of helping Americans spy on his compound in the run-up to the U.S. raid that killed him.
We return to the neighborhood that is crawling with security. But we've discovered the people are fearful to speak with us. One young man we happened upon who we saw weeks ago, we saw today, who said: Please, please don't talk to me; I don't want to eat pulses - which is a shorthand way of saying, I don't want to go to jail.
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MCCARTHY: We drive two hours east of Abbottabad to this tourist hill town of Muri(ph), to rendezvous with a man who lives on the same street as bin Laden's compound but would not be interviewed there. We meet in a hotel here. He asks to be identified as Haji Rashid - not his real name. Fidgeting with his cell phone, he says he has no idea why authorities picked up his neighbors.
Do you have any sense about how many of your neighbors were arrested?
Mr. HAJI RASHID: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: Five were arrested. Can you name them? Do you know who they are? Do you know these neighbors?
Mr. RASHID: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: He says he believes they've done nothing wrong.
Mr. RASHID: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: Haji Rashid says the people who have been arrested in that area are poor, ordinary citizens, and he doubts they were informants for the CIA.
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MCCARTHY: Even back in the military town of Abbottabad, there are pockets of public dismay. In a lively market on the opposite side of town from bin Laden's compound, we find Mohammad Yousuf. The toothless 73-year-old has lost all patience with Pakistan's leadership.
Mr. MOHAMMAD YOUSUF: I say there is no government, there is no security, there is no military. They don't think about the people.
MCCARTHY: You're saying there's no government, there's no security and there's no military - and you're wondering where they are.
Despite the loud grumbling, defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa sees no sign that the armed forces are yielding to the clamor that average citizens be better protected, or offering any open-hearted admission of fault.
Ms. AYESHA SIDDIQA (Defense Analyst): Instead, the way they want to present the situation is some kind of a conspiracy, an attack on the military. They're not seeing the reality as you or I would see it.
MCCARTHY: Army spokesman General Attar Abbas rejects that as untrue and completely unfounded. Yet a sense of dread is gathering. Another young reporter has gone missing. At least two prominent television anchors report that they have received threats, which they believe are emanating from the intelligence agency the ISI. Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir says Pakistan's lawyers face the same intimidation as the journalists.
Ms. ASMA JAHANGIR (Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association): There have been lawyers who have been killed. There have been lawyers who've been kidnapped. There have been lawyers who have been threatened, either by state agents themselves or by those whom the state agents sponsor and protect.
MCCARTHY: Ayesha Siddiqa insists the prevailing reality is very disturbing.
Ms. SIDDIQA: I'm suggesting something very dramatic - that each one of us who is a thinking, questioning Pakistani should now be writing their own obituaries.
MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.
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INSKEEP: Julie's part of a team of correspondents that has expanded their coverage of the world even as others step back. You hear her on NPR News.
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