There should be no bravado or battle cries over Pakistan’s correct decision to boycott the Bonn Conference; to reaffirm its earlier decision that Washington vacate the Shamsi base, to temporarily stop Nato supplies through Torkham and Chaman and to review all ongoing cooperation with Washington and Kabul over all Afghanistan-related matters. Despite these volatile episodes, the bilateral relationship between the US and Pakistan remains one of extreme importance for both countries. In the coming days, if a degree of humility and reflection finds its way in the White House corridors, some way forward will definitely be worked out.
For Pakistan, such decisions, tough and unprecedented, not only within the context of Pakistan-US relations but also in the history of Pakistan’s diplomacy, had to be taken. It is hard to recall a similar quick-footed, yet appropriate, response from Pakistan’s policymakers, through even the most troubled episodes. Clearly, with the November 26 attack being the seventh attack by US forces on Pakistani territory including the May 2 deep strike operation, these decisions were necessary. It was time to draw the red lines and make clear the rules of business if the mutually beneficial cooperation is to continue.
Policymaking without losing sight of the objective of peace in the region, is needed. Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US, are all fairly suspicious of each other’s intentions. Hence, developing a cooperative approach is a Herculean task. Still, through this minefield of distrust, Pakistan and sections of the Obama administration, have painstakingly attempted to negotiate a common way forward.
For Pakistan, the fallout of the Raymond Davis affair, the Abbottabad Operation and Admiral Mike Mullen’s publicly articulated ‘compliments’ to the ISI have contributed to queering the anti-US pitch in Pakistan. And, more importantly, the failed US policy in Afghanistan and its double-play on the Taliban have also generated anger within Pakistan. Nevertheless, despite endless domestic criticism, Pakistan’s government, foremost on the recommendations of the army leadership, has only sought to keep the bilateral relationship moving forward.
There is, therefore, an apparent keenness within the Obama administration to develop, despite the distrust, a cooperative relation with Pakistan. But the degree to which such willingness exists, is tested most in times of crisis. As it has been after the Novemeber 26 attack. Some incontrovertible facts, as stated by the Pentagon, Nato and Isaf regarding the attack are that there was an operation that was being conducted on the Afghan side of the border. The US troops, according to American claims, operating under the collective Isaf arrangement, were fired upon by the Pakistani post. They then contacted Pakistan’s 11 Corps. Whether they waited or not for the response is unclear but then they called for air support and the attacks began.
Pakistan claims there was no firing from the Pakistani posts; that when Pakistan’s director general of military operations informed Isaf commanders in Kabul of the attack, the attack continued. Such a claim, if true, raises fundamental questions regarding the American and Isaf intent to seek Pakistani cooperation. It also supports the US critics within Pakistan’s security establishment who believe the US is not sincere about working on a joint exit strategy with Pakistan. It seeks only tactical cooperation, while pursuing strategically diverse goals including undermining Pakistan’s nuclear programme, its armed forces and its regional position.
How Washington and the Washington-led Isaf responds to the November 26 attack, lie answers to some of these questions. Surely, the Isaf commander does not believe that Pakistan will agree to conduct joint border operations after this attack on Pakistani territory and the killing of Pakistani soldiers, which was followed by Isaf’s refusal to apologise for what was clearly a violation of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) agreed upon by the two sides, which include alerting the other side of a planned operation.
Pakistan’s bagful of past blunders and even some questionable policy approaches cannot be taken as a license by any other country to act with impunity as the US has been doing under the Isaf umbrella. In Isaf, the US calls the shot, and hence, has to be the lead respondent in the case that Pakistan has carefully built regarding the November 26 attack. A wise and credible response from Isaf and Washington that could have averted Pakistan’s tough response should have been an immediate apology for violating the SOP. Also Isaf and Washington should have announced an immediate and transparently conducted inquiry into the facts relating to the attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2011.
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