The American commando operation in Abbottabad which eliminated Osama bin Laden appears to have caused far greater turmoil in the political and military establishment of Pakistan than in al Qaeda, the dreaded terrorist organization that he headed. That is why American President Barack Obama’s announcement on the night of May 1 about the successful operation to eliminate Osama was met with stunned silence by that country’s top leadership.

It took quite a while for the Pakistani President Mr Asif  Zardari, the Prime Minister Mr Gilani and their Army Chief General Kayani to gather their wits and to say something to assuage the feelings of their countrymen. However, eventually, when they and some others in the Pakistani establishment grudgingly opened their mouths, they only ended up tying themselves in knots. None of them could offer a credible explanation for the presence of bin Laden in a well-fortified building close to the national capital. Nor could they explain why the US kept them in the dark and why they were utterly paralysed when a foreign country undertook a secret mission deep inside Pakistan.

The initial silence of the Pakistani establishment can be explained a follows. It was weighing its options. The question before it was not whether it should speak the truth, but what version of falsehood it should put before its citizenry.

The killing of Osama in a house in the heart of Pakistan by America raised two sentiments among the citizens of that country.
The first of this relates to their religious identity. Unlike India, which is a democratic state, Pakistan is an Islamic State which accords little or no space to religious minorities. The population is overwhelmingly Muslim (97 per cent ) and the post-1947 generations have been brought up on a staple diet of hatred for Hindus and India (which is dubbed a Hindu-nation) and hatred for America and the western nations which are dubbed as Christian nations. The democratic and secular traditions prevalent in India and in these western democracies is neither acknowledged nor respected.

Having grown up in this environment, Pakistani youth look up to persons like Osama bin Laden, who claim to be fighting on their behalf and against “satanic nations” like America and “the land of Kafirs” like India. They remain extremely vulnerable to politics and slogans that claim that Islam is in danger (‘Islam Katre Mein’). They are therefore aghast to hear that their religious icon is no more and that the political leaders in the `Land of Satan’ (America) had the audacity to eliminate this icon in the heart of Pakistan. In this context, both the political and military establishment found it convenient to claim that they knew nothing about the operation. By taking this position, it felt it could avert the charge of having collaborated with the “enemy of Islam”.
At worst, the citizens would accuse the political leadership and the armed forces of incompetence but their commitment and loyalty to Islam would not be in question. This way the rage of Islamists could be deflected away from Islamabad and directed towards America.

However, the civilian and military leadership soon realized that this line was doing nothing to appease the anger on the streets of Pakistan. That was because there was a second emotion – a nationalist emotion - that was as strong, if not stronger than the religious sentiment. Pakistanis were horrified to note that American helicopters carrying commandoes came deep within their territory, conducted an operation and stealthily returned to their base in Afghanistan without the Pakistani Army or Air Force even raising an alarm, let alone challenge the intruders.

This spoke volumes about the defence preparedness and alertness of the Pakistani armed forces. This was very humiliating for every citizen. Therefore, on second thoughts, the political and military establishment felt that they could cut their losses if they claimed that the Abbottabad Operation was part of the on-going teamwork between Pakistan and America. In such a scenario, the people would be relieved to know that Pakistan’s sovereignty had not been violated.

The reactions of Pakistan’s top leadership are so full of contradictions that it is difficult to discern who is speaking the truth. The clinical precision with which the Americans conducted the operation is a major embarrassment for both the political and military leadership. This is something they can neither spit or swallow. Hence, the contradictions.

It may sound laughable but even as the American establishment repeatedly told the world that no country, including Pakistan was told about the operation until it was over, Shuja Pasha, the chief of Pakistan’s ISI, claimed that Pakistan had a role in the operation. This, despite the assertion of Leon Panetta, the Chief of CIA, that they felt that “any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They (Pakistanis) might alert the targets”.

While the top leadership remained tongue-tied, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Mr Salman Bashir made bold to speak up. He claimed that it was in fact the Pakistani establishment which had informed the US way back in 2009 about the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was in hiding. “The compound was pointed out by the ISI to the US Intelligence” and since the US had much more sophisticated technology and equipment “to detect, evaluate and assess leads”, they eventually got to bin Laden!  Have you ever heard such an extraordinary explanation for a nation bartering away its self-respect? If you had information about Osama two years ago, why were you sitting on it and why did you want a foreign power to take action?

But Foreign Secretary Bashir’s claims that the Pakistanis had indeed tipped off the Americans about bin Laden’s hideout was demolished by the Pakistani President Mr Asif Ali Zardari who declared that Islamabad was not aware that bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad. He blamed the American media for disseminating such “baseless speculation”, forgetting what his own Foreign Secretary and ISI Chief had said on this issue. Why was funnier was that the President’s statement stood in contrast to the official reaction of his own government and the statement of his own Prime Minister. The government’s official statement claimed that the ISI had been sharing information with the CIA since 2009 and that the CIA had exploited these intelligence leads given to them to identify and reach Osama bin Laden. Prime Minister Gilani reiterated this position and told the Pakistan Parliament that ISI had passed on “crucial leads” to the CIA.

The Foreign Secretary was also contradicted by Mr Wajid SHasan, Pakistan’s envoy to the UK. He asserted in a television Interview that Osama was never in Pakistan. “This time, he entered
 Abbottabad….. he was under observation and killed”. In other words, Mr.Hasan does not believe his own government, his own Foreign Secretary and his own ISI chief when they say that they tipped off the Americans about the compound in Abbottabad in 2009! His statement also does not square up with available evidence that Osama moved into Abbottabad in 2005 if not earlier. Equally intriguing was the claim of the Interior Minister Rehman malik that he became aware of the American operation 15 minutes after it began, contradicting government claims that they knew noting about the raids.

That is why one is inclined to empathise with Mr.Imran Khan, the leader of  Tehreek-e-Insaaf, when he says the people just do not know what is the truth because the Pakistan government is constantly lying about everything.  The rulers are “lying to the nation on a number of issues, including drone attacks, the release of Raymond Davis, the alleged presence of CIA operators in Pakistan…..” he said. So it appears the chickens are finally coming home to roost. A nation built on hatred and deceit is now coming face with face with its own reality and no Pakistani likes what he is now seeing in the mirror!