By S. M. Hali

Following the Salala attack, Pakistan expressed the ire and angst of the nation by taking some major steps: the NATO supply route plying through Pakistan was blocked; Shamsi air Base in Balochistan, allegedly in use by CIA for operating drone attacks was shut down and the US personnel asked to vacate it; the Bonn Conference was boycotted and a formal apology was sought from USA. The mandarins at Hotel Scheherazade (foreign office) were asked to delegate the formulation of foreign policy to the parliament and politicians of various ilks began behaving like demagogues and US-bashing became the flavour of the day. Pubic fury was whipped to a frenzy that reached a crescendo. However, six months down the line, while the world has moved on sans Pakistan, likening our protestations to Shakespeare’s “full of sound and fury—signifying nothing.”

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was the NATO Summit at Chicago. Bonn Conference had been deliberately skipped by Pakistan, but come May 2012 and panic started gripping in since Islamabad had not received an invitation to Chicago. The same governmental leaders, who had breathed fire and brimstone after the Salala incident, instigating national pride and sovereignty, now began to sing a different tune. One is reminiscent of George Orwell’s political satire: Animal Farm, where the sheep (signifying the general public), after the takeover of the farm by the animals, are initially taught the slogan “Four legs good! Two legs bad!” but after the compromise and sell out to the humans, they are taught a new slogan: “Four legs good! Two legs better!” After the Parliament had decreed in line with the recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security that an apology from the US for the unprovoked attack at Salala was a prerequisite to reopening the NATO supply routes, the general public in Pakistan is being reminded by its suave Foreign Minister that “Pakistan must move on” (sans apology). The Defence Minister, waking up from his slumber like Rip Van Winkle, now remembers that blocking the NATO supply route is in contravention to international law and humanitarian considerations, while NATO comprises not only US but 27 other nations, including Pakistan’s long trusted friend Turkey, which reportedly facilitated Pakistan’s invitation to Chicago. Perhaps Pakistan’s desperation to be at Chicago was to plead the resumption of its aid since it is budget time for an impoverished nation.   

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Washington, whose foreign policy for the region is no longer dictated by Foggy Bottom alone but has major inputs from Pentagon and Langley, managed to outfox Islamabad. The same mandarins, who were behaving like David after firing the biblical slingshot at Goliath’s forehead, like the fable, were willing to have their “heads smacked with a shoe as well as swallow the onions”. The US had carried out its own inquiry into the Salala incident concluding that it was an unfortunate incident but was triggered by Pakistani troops. One could have poked holes in this incongruous conclusion since apparently the Salala attack was a premeditated assault where gunship helicopters operated for 150 minutes, targeting Pakistani soldiers akin to a Turkey shoot. However, instead of taking the case to the International Court of Justice, we continued our haranguing in the local media alone. An emboldened US has now refused to render a formal apology at the incident, it has put its foot down on discontinuing the drone attacks and Leon Panetta has gone to the extent of stating that he would never agree to Pakistan’s demands of transit fees, which he terms exorbitant, citing the poor economy of the US as an excuse. He has conveniently ignored the fact that the same cash strapped US is paying an arm and a leg for the 6000 miles long Northern Distribution Network but will not pay a fraction for the 500 miles long supply route through Pakistan.

The US State Department spurned Pakistan’s request for President Zardari to meet President Obama in a one-on-one conference, although they briefly met on the sidelines. The meeting with NATO’s Secretary General was missed, but reportedly all others apart from Karzai were to bear pressure on Pakistan. In an unmistakable snub, the US President left Pakistan off a list of nations he thanked for help getting war supplies into Afghanistan. President Zardari maintained his “Cheshire Cat” grin despite the pressure, promising $ 20 million to Afghanistan from Pakistan’s empty coffers. The Presidential spokesman had us believe that Mr. Zardari will demand $ 1 Billion at Chicago but he remained clueless.