The effort to ensure that diplomacy and calmer heads prevail at a time of fragile relations between Pakistan and the United States is on. However, the effort notwithstanding, Islamabad has made it clear to Washington that, if it comes down to it, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate if American forces attempt to launch a unilateral strike on the country’s tribal belt.
The message was personally delivered by Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief General David Petraeus during his recent trip to Washington, said an official familiar with the development.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that Pasha had informed his counterpart that the Pakistani people will not tolerate any US misadventure and in that case the government will be left with no other option but to retaliate.
Senior ISI members, the official said, had felt ‘betrayed’ by the blunt assessment of the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that the spy agency had links with the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network. In a stinging remark, Mullen accused ISI of supporting one of the most feared Afghan insurgent groups to target US forces stationed in Afghanistan.
(Read: The political economy of confrontation)
But, in a closed-door meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence on Tuesday, a senior ISI official said that the US was simply attempting to make Pakistan the ‘scapegoat’ to cover up its failures in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Sore wounds from the May 2 US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden were also reopened in the meeting when a lawmaker, quoting an ISI official, told the parliamentary panel that Pakistan will not tolerate any unilateral strike on its soil by US forces to target the alleged safe havens of the Haqqani network.
“We cannot be caught off guard this time,” the official told lawmakers, referring to the raid that embarrassed the country’s powerful security establishment about its ignorance of the world’s most wanted man’s whereabouts. “This time, we will give them a surprise if they (Americans) dare,” he said.
Speaking to reporters, committee chair Lt General (retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi confirmed that lawmakers had voiced serious concern over threats emanating from Washington. Qazi, who also served as ISI chief in the 90s, insisted that Pakistan had the capability to give a ‘befitting response’ to any attempts by the US to invade the tribal areas.
A frenzy of meetings continued, meanwhile, in Islamabad. US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter is reported to have met Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, for the second time in 24 hours, and later Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
The president also met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani Zardari to discuss the situation.
A statement released by the media office of the President House said that the two leaders also discussed the all parties conference scheduled for September 29.
Reposing confidence in the ability of the democratic leadership to stand united at all times that call for unity, the president expressed hope that the country’s political leadership will be able to reach a consensus, the statement said.
Over in Washington, US Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman phoned the Pakistan Envoy to the US Hussain Haqqani in a bid to cool down the heated diplomatic state between the two countries.
Grossman said that the US and Pakistan were united on a wide range of issues, even though they differed over the Haqqani network.
We are funding the enemy: US congressman
Back in Washington, American congressmen were presented with an anti-Pakistan bill called the “Pakistan Accountability Act”, introduced by Congressman Ted Poe from Texas who is an outspoken critic of Pakistan.
“This legislation will freeze all US aid to Pakistan with the exception of funds that are designated to help secure nuclear weapons,” says a transcript available on the Congressman’s website.
Citing Mullen’s statement on Pakistan supporting the Haqqani network, Poe said that, “Since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan has proven to be disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the US. This so-called ally continues to take billions in US aid, while at the same time supports militants who attack us. The US must immediately freeze all aid to Pakistan. Pakistan has made it painfully obvious that they will continue their policy of duplicity and deceit by pretending to be our ally while simultaneously promoting violent extremism. By continuing to provide aid to Pakistan, we are funding the enemy, endangering Americans and undermining our efforts in the region,” he said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister, in an interview with Reuters, also struck a defiant tone – clearly warning the US on Tuesday to stop accusing it of playing a double game with militants.
“The negative messaging, naturally that is disturbing my people,” Gilani said. “If there is messaging that is not appropriate to our friendship, then naturally it is extremely difficult to convince my public. Therefore they should be sending positive messages.”
He implied that the US’ recent ratcheting up of pressure on Pakistan reflected frustration with the war in Afghanistan. “Certainly they expected more results from Afghanistan, which they have not been able to achieve as yet,” he said. “They have not achieved what they visualized.”
(With additional reporting by Huma Imtiaz in Washington)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2011.