If it is okay for Washington to focus all its diplomatic and political energies, laced with threatening messages, to fly away its covert operator Raymond Davis, it is much more than okay for Pakistan to suspend business-as-usual with the US-Isaf-Afghan troika following the November 26 attack on the Golden and Volcano border posts in the Mohmand Agency in which 24 security personnel lost their lives. The attack and Pakistan’s response to it both flow from the deep distrust that exists between Pakistan on one hand and the Afghan government, America and Isaf on the other. In a rare and welcome rapid reaction, Pakistan’s key national security institutions, including the defence committee of the cabinet met to decide a policy response.
Clearly, all Afghanistan-related military and intelligence cooperation should be suspended and all diplomatic engagement must focus on working out an Isaf, Nato, US and Afghan response acceptable to Pakistan. The minimum demand must be a joint inquiry. Unless Nato apologises, initiates a joint inquiry and promises action against those responsible for the attacks it must not be business as usual. Pakistan should also review its decision to participate in the upcoming Bonn Agreement unless Afghanistan, American and Isaf take concrete steps including an unconditional apology for the attack.
All the facts on the attack are not and will not become clear without an independent inquiry. Already, on November 28, a Nato spokesman suggested that the attack was in self-defence. He said that an operation was being conducted on the Afghan side and Nato troops came under fire from across the Pakistan border and asked for air support. To this, the Pakistani military spokesman said that after the Peshawer Corps came to know of the attack, the director-general of military operations contacted the commander of Isaf’s regional headquarters in Khost and told him to halt it, but the attack continued for another hour.
Significantly, the posts Isaf attacked were the two new ones set up to prevent Sufi Mohammad’s militants from infiltrating and attacking. Less than a month ago, these militants had attacked Pakistani forces and left 17 FC personnel dead. Nato authorities had been informed about the setting up of these two posts and quite clearly this area was not the one from which the Haqqani group infiltrates into Afghanistan to attack Isaf and Afghan forces.
The Nato response has, so far, been of regret and a claim that its forces attacked in self-defence. It has promised to hold an inquiry. But if Nato itself is the judge, jury and executioner, then there is little likelihood of a fair inquiry. Hence the demand by Pakistan for a joint inquiry is important.
Some broader issues related to this attack should be recalled. Perhaps the most important is that despite US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s genuine effort to resolve Afghanistan-related mutual concerns, there continues to be a serious trust deficit between Pakistan on one side and America and Afghanistan on the other.
Washington’s double policy of talking to and clobbering the Taliban simultaneously is preventing substantive operational level military cooperation. Hence, while on paper, 20 hours before the attack, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Isaf commander General John Allen met and agreed on “measures concerning coordination, communication and procedures for enhancing border control on both sides”, on the ground the policy conflict between Pentagon-CIA and the State Department-White House is played out.
With the tragic assassination of Professor Rabbani, Pakistan-Afghan distrust has also widened. Are Kabul and the Pentagon also planning to carry out more raids given that the Haqqani network launches some of its attacks from the Pakistani territory? If so, this sixth attack by Isaf forces inside Pakistan’s territory since 2008, may not be the last one. These questions and perceptions notwithstanding, only a joint investigation can help provide credible answers. Through these attacks and the May 2 US-led invasion deep into Pakistan’s territory, Pakistan’s security and sovereignty are being gradually eroded. Only an appropriate policy response seeking corrective measures for the attack, not mainstream bombastic rhetoric coupled with concealed efforts to seek quid-pro-quos, will stop this erosion. A prudent policy response is not warranted merely because of public outrage. A prudent response, that the government must wisely craft and execute, is a state and security imperative.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2011.