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US bullying: something’s got to give

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, Dec 02, 2011

The US and NATO want Pakistan to do more. One way to make Pakistan – specifically the army – comply with this desire is to prick and pressure it. This has been the pattern, and one wonders whether the Nov 26th brazen attack on the Salala security Post in Mohmand also stems from the same desire. As of now, the ISAF officials claim their gunships acted in self-defense; the Pakistan army denies this vociferously, and says the US-NATO forces have killed at least 72 Pakistani soldiers in about eight cross-border attacks in the last three years.

Was it by design i.e. to send a message to the Pakistan army, or result of faulty or motivated ground intelligence by informers for the American and Afghan forces? Granted the Coalition forces came after Taliban militants, but what made them mow down – indiscriminately – two dozen soldiers. Why did they not invoke the intelligence sharing or joint border management mechanism. Why did they not contact Pakistani officers present in the border company headquarter? 

The entire episode stinks and requires a thorough investigation because an ally cannot treat the other partner as enemy – without any warning whatsoever. The Coalition troops seem to have acted as the Ally from Hell – at least for all those who fell victim to the gunship fire. 

Let us have a look at other similar attacks in recent years: 

An air strike by US-led forces in June 2008 killed 11 FC soldiers and 10 civilians in Mohmand Agency. An Army Major died among the casualties. 

In September 2010, NATO forces in Afghanistan announced that in a strike by two NATO helicopters, they killed 30 civilians on Pakistani soil, claiming that the civilians were apparently 'militants'. On September 30, 2010, Pakistan blocked NATO’s supplies after a violation of Pakistan’s border, in which NATO helicopter gunships attacked a security post in Kurram Agency, killing three soldiers and injuring three others.

On September 30th, 2010, three FC soldiers became victim to shelling from across the border at an FC checkpost in the Kurram agency. 

Early this year in February, a soldier was killed and seven others sustained injuries when the NATO and Afghan forces fired mortar shells at the Bangidar security checkpost in North Waziristan Agency. 

In the last week of April 2011, three Pakistani soldiers were killed and over a dozen people, including security personnel and local tribesmen, sustained injuries in cross-border shelling between the Afghan and Pakistani security forces near South Waziristan.

In May of this year, NATO forces again violated Pakistani airspace as two of its helicopters intruded into Pakistani territory in the border area of North Waziristan Agency for a search operation. 

In the last week of August 2011, around 300 men crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan’s territory and stormed seven security checkpoints along the Durand Line and killed dozens of Pakistani security personnel. The casualty figure was between 25 and 60. 

The story around the drone strikes is not different either. To date, the US has carried out more than 250 drone attacks in Pakistan, killing more than 2,000 people. For understandable reasons, neither the Pak Army nor the Government had not until now displayed any real resistance or condemnation of the drone strikes.

But the Mohmand incident has confronted Pakistan with an extremely embarrassing situation, something that warranted stern action. The suspension of the US-NATO cargo via Pakistan (almost two-thirds of it runs through Pakistan), and the demand to vacate the Shamsi Air Base amounted to the logical reaction to the brazen attack. 

The demand regarding the Shamsi base was even more embarrassing as the government and the army had always claimed it was being used by a UAE commercial company and had nothing to do with the Americans. Now that the government has asked the Americans to pack up, the contradiction of the policy is also out in the open. The nation was being fed on lies, so it seems. Why should then people trust this government or the army, which had earlier denied the presence of American trainers, but then Ge. Kayani himself told us that all 129 American trainers had been asked to leave in the aftermath of the raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on May 2nd. 

The suspension of the supplies looks more like a tactical move, probably to again leverage the level of Pakistan’s engagement with the United States, but Pakistan will also have to take into account the efforts that the US army has been undertaking to find alternative supply routes. The northern route via Russia- Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan - more than 5,000 kms – is in fact the alternative to the shortest supply route that Pakistan offers. For the time being, the US-NATO troops are reportedly well-covered for two months, but suspension beyond eight weeks could entail serious consequences for them. That is why, one would presume, that top-ranking American officials will soon make sure either to get the supplies restored, and or also to work harder on the alternatives to connect Afghanistan with Uzbekistan , Kazakhstan and Russia for uninterrupted supplies. 

What Pakistan has at hand is a serious challenge to it as a sovereign state that is in constant turmoil because of a) internal governance crisis, and b) external factors that are largely related to the questionable war on terror. Both the military and the civilian government find themselves in a tight corner, and are required to pacify the outrage that the US-NATO attack has caused to almost all Pakistanis. No body wants, nor should any body advocate severing the ties with Washington, but what most self-respecting Pakistanis would certainly want is a renegotiation on the rules of engagement in a war that has caused a lot bloodshed and resulted in massive economic drain.


Email: imtiaz@crss.pk