How Pakistan prevails over Egypt in democracy

While Egypt's military ousts an elected leader, Pakistan's stronger democracy holds its military to account for not searching, let alone finding, Osama bin Laden.

AP Photo
Children play at the demolished compound of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Both Egypt and Pakistan, two of the largest Muslim countries, have struggled to show that Islam and democracy can be compatible. In recent days, however, each has gone down a very different path toward that worthy goal.

In Egypt, millions of protesters took to the streets last week to demand the ouster of an elected Islamist president. On July 3, the military complied. That was hardly the best way for a young democracy to self-correct.

In contrast, Pakistan not only saw its first peaceful handover of n elected civilian government last month, but on Monday, an official report was leaked that strongly criticizes all levels of government – especially the military – for failing to search for Osama bin Laden, even though the Al Qaeda leader had been living in Pakistan for nearly a decade.

The report was commissioned by Pakistani lawmakers after the American secret raid that killed Mr. bin Laden in 2011, embarrassing the country. To Pakistan’s credit, the 336-page report reflects the kind of humble self-examination that any democracy needs to prevent abuse or neglect by those in power.

Named after the area where bin Laden lived, the Abbottabad Commission was led by a Supreme Court judge. Its findings were based on 52 hearings and interviews with more than 200 people, including top intelligence officials. This is the sort of root-and-branch probe that shows a seriousness of oversight.

The four-member commission cites the influence of radical Islamists within the security forces, suggesting a lack of will by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to hunt down the world’s most notorious terrorist. “In the premier intelligence institution, religiosity replaced accountability,” it stated.

But the blame for not spotting bin Laden in his giant compound was spread widely. “How the entire neighborhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors … over a period of nearly six years beggars belief,” the report said. (Among the more interesting findings is that bin Laden walked around in a cowboy hat to avoid detection.)

One of the report’s recommended reforms is that “the people” (elected civilians) have better control over the ISI or else Pakistan risks “becoming further degraded to an intelligence and police state.” This is bold criticism for a country that only recently emerged from being ruled by the military.

The report didn’t go so far as to name names of those who contributed to the “culpable negligence and incompetence.” “It is obvious who they are,” it stated, adding that it may be politically unrealistic to suggest punishments. “But as honorable men, they ought to do the honorable thing,” it offered, “including submitting a formal apology to the nation for their dereliction of duty.”

While the report is not perfect – it was leaked, not officially released – it should be held up as an example of how a constitutional system can keep a check on the concentration of power, whether it be the military or a religious figure who claims special authority.

Every elected government needs regular lessons on accountability and humility. “The great benefit of democracy is that it allows for self-correction,” said Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona in a speech last December. “It allows imperfect human beings to strive ... to live up to the high standards of our own values, which are perfect and eternal.”

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