Dead end for US - Pakistan alliance?
Heartrending images of the green and white, national flag draped coffins of the 24 soldiers and officers that died recently in the NATO attack on two border posts in Pakistan’s Mohmand agency has fuelled intense rage across the country.
Moving into high gear, Pakistan has blocked all NATO supplies for the Coalition forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and has announced a review of its military ties with the United States. Moreover, its decision to boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan is something that may lead its so-called allies to sit and question the extent to which they can push a sovereign nation. Considering the fact that Pakistan was majorly involved in the reconciliation process with the Afghan insurgents, its boycott of the conference on Afghanistan is being felt in both Kabul and Washington.
Reacting strongly to the ‘regret’ expressed by NATO over the killings Pakistan military has rejected claims that the strike was in response to gunfire from Pakistan’s side. The Pakistan military spokesperson has questioned the casualties on the other side in case of such an occurence and detailed the strategic location of the posts whose physical location itself belies the charge.
Earlier skirmishes on the border have now become commonplace but the extent of the attack on the border posts at the Salalah checkpoint in Mohmand — that are well known, established ones and well within Pakistani territory — have offset an unprecedented anti-US/NATO reaction. Prime Minister Gilani’s statement that business with the US will no longer be the same probably packs in more of a punch than he intended to convey. In fact, things have hardly been cosy between the two allies, a term which is in itself now questionable. For which ally goes about attacking another ally’s known military checkposts and kills its security personnel? The Coalition forces may have gotten used to getting away with killing civilians including women and children in Afghanistan — a fact that has been widely bemoaned by even President Hamid Karzai and even in Pakistan thanks to the tacit drone attacks it has allowed — but things have now reached a boiling point. The anger that has swept across in every section of society is testament to the fact. All one hears is a cacophony of voices demanding an end to the alliance with the United States that has made the whole nation hostage to the paltry billions that have done little to alleviate the social and economic suffering in society.
The sacrifice of thousands of soldiers and civilians is still not enough for every finger points at the country calling it two faced and in cahoots with terrorists. If that does not reek of frustration and denial then what does? Take for instance the Western media that has not spared an opportunity in castigating Pakistan and portraying it more of an enemy than a friend. ‘Two faced Pakistan” is what all and sundry are calling the country forgetting the fact that it is the same that has contributed the most in terms of human lives and economic sacrifice in counterterrorism. One wonders what to call the very same countries that are proudly, unabashedly going about supporting states that excel in violating international law and abusing human rights— multi-faced? With such acrimony marking ties what hope is there for working out a long-term regional security arrangement? Unfortunately Pakistan is partly to blame. Without taking its people in confidence regarding its tacit arrangement with the United States for allowing predator strikes, it has inch by inch allowed things to reach this point. What sort of helplessness is this that it could not draw a line and demand ownership in any operation waged on its territory. It was in all probability because of the trust deficit and reluctance of the US to share drone technology and/or intelligence of targets with Pakistan.
What now? The question is if any more such incidents will be feasible for the US-led war in Afghanistan at all for that would mean opening another war front. Pakistan, under international law has the right to act in self-defence; any reciprocal military action on offenders may dangerously escalate. This is something Washington and Brussels should sit and think about unless these so-called accidental and regrettable incidents are designed to obtain this very end result. No state will tolerate such an infringement of its sovereignty and have its allies attack and kill it soldiers and officers without provocation in the dead of the night.
It is high time Pakistan reassessed its policy vis-à-vis the Afghan war on its own terms. The figures speak for themselves. According to the GHQ hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been injured and killed. So what makes the latest attack so different from all others? The fact that it has come at a very sensitive juncture when Pakistan’s ties with the United States were barely healing after having suffered sustained blows over the past many months — Raymond Davis incident and then the Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden operation.
The deteriorating atmospherics between the two are hardly conducive for such a critical alliance to continue without undertaking massive damage control. While tempers are bound to cool down in the coming weeks, the question is how long can a lack of trust and regard weather another storm.