The leaking of the Abbottabad Commission report, on the raid in which a team of SEALs from the US Special Operations Command killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, has created a media tizzy apart from the questions it raised about the raid itself - indeed, about bin Laden himself and the organisation he founded.
One of the first things that became clear was that the ‘smoking gun’ pointed at someone; no one had come up with the claim that no leak had taken place, though that seems to be what the official version seemed to want to do, by saying that there were significant differences (such as the omission of Ambassador Jehangir Ashraf Qazi’s dissenting note), and that the published report was inaccurate.
That seems more of a reaction to the contents of the report, which ended up failing to answer two of the main questions that the raid itself raised: how did he do it? How did Osama bin Laden live in Abbottabad for years, virtually right under the nose of the Pakistan Military Academy, and thus of the ISI? More crucial for Pakistanis is the question: how the fateful raid took place without the military taking any action to defend the country?
The report presents no answers. It also does not provide any recommendations on how to prevent a repetition of either. That would mean that foreigners with enough money could live in Pakistan with impunity. Or else that the ISI knew all along where Osama was. Or else that the military is bad at defending the country as well as at gathering intelligence. Knowledge, indeed protection, of Osama, would imply a treachery to the USA almost mind-boggling in extent, made worse by the military’s attempt to monopolise the Pak-US relationship.
However, perhaps, more interesting than the contents of the report is the question of who leaked it. A finger has already been pointed at Farooq Naek, who had been given a copy as Law Minister, and if true, would once again show that the PPP has an institutional bias against the military, and the Memogate accusations, which also reflected this bias, were part of a pattern and did not merely reflect the aberrant mentalities of the President and his Ambassador in Washington, but a strong tendency within the party.
The USA, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had worked for the PPP to work with the military in Ms Benazir Bhutto’s lifetime and the PPP under Asif Zardari has tried to continue this policy. However, the PPP has apparently still not forgiven the military for two things: its hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and its refusal to act as its strong right arm and guarantee its rule.
The report’s leaking has not led to a shift away from its contents, which would be one objective. Another point at which the PPP and the USA have common ground is the need to break the power of the military. Though this is not yet the official doctrine, there is an opinion in US power circles that the aims of the Pakistan military, particularly over Kashmir, thus relations with India, and nuclearisation, are opposed to those of the USA, and thus the roots of the military in the people must be torn out. Thus, the publication of the report would lead to a decline in the people’s reliance on the military as its defenders.
The USA has to balance getting what it wants with the decline of its ability to do so, because the military losing some of its lustre in the eyes of the public will mean a decline in its ability to carry out a coup, and thus a decline in its political importance to an elected government.
The report is also being seen as a sign that the military-judiciary nexus is not completely broken, a nexus which meant that the military got legal cover for previous takeovers. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has taken a very different line, with Chief Justice Chaudhry having said that the path to future military rule had been blocked. In this connection, it has even ordered the trial of former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for high treason.
It should, however, be remembered that the last time a Supreme Court judge headed a commission to consider a military disaster, it was the Hamoodur Rehman Commission. Its report has not been made public either. That commission’s recommendations, for the trial of some officers, were not implemented either. That was also a time when the ability of the military to take over seemed at a low ebb, when Chief Justice Hamood also presided over what is known as Asma Jilani’s case, in which the erstwhile military ruler, General Yahya Khan, was declared a usurper. Despite this judgement and the insertion of Article 6 in the new constitution, General Ziaul Haq led the army in a coup in 1977, remaining in office for 11 years. Zia not only got legal cover from the Supreme Court, but so did Musharraf.
Though it does not seem the judiciary, as represented by the Supreme Court, will give the military the legal cover it needs for future takeovers, it should not be forgotten that the Abbottabad raid was followed by the attack on the navy airbase at PNS Mehran, and preceded by the attack on GHQ. These attacks can be seen as attempts to weaken the link between the armed forces and the people.
The government must, therefore, tread a very careful path. It must ensure that it is not derailed from any of its purposes. One way of quickly putting the whole affair beyond it would be to have the report published. Even if it does not have sufficient recommendations for action, the government can still decide on detailed actions - but if given, recommendations must be acted upon.
One advantage that the present government has is that it was in the opposition at all times, from the actual event, to the setting up of the commission, to the presentation of the report, to the setting up of a committee to consider publication. In short, no member of the present government has any role in setting the defence policy leading up to the Abbottabad raid, or in the leak of the commission’s report. It thus has no need to defend either and can come down hard on whoever is responsible, with the added advantage that that person would belong to the PPP, and thus punishable not just with impunity, but positive political advantage to the government.
The PPP too must act calmly in this time; forget, at least for now, its animus against the armed forces and not protest too loudly, or try to save any of its members guilty of any wrongdoing.
The nation as a whole has paid heavily for its defence against all attackers, not just those from a specific country. It must have armed forces capable of repelling invaders and of ensuring that all, foreigners, included  are protected by the state. That might be too much to ask in this era of the war on terror and rendition, but the nation as a whole has paid too heavily for foreign support of domestic coups to want a repetition.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.