By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
A premeditated attack by the NATO forces on Salala outposts depicts a typical American cowboy’s psyche of executing unprovoked attacks and using disproportionate force against humble targets. It was indeed a cowardly attack and an act of aggression against Pakistan. The nation that was highly polarized on the memo gate episode promptly put its act together and put up a unanimous response. The entire nation collectively expressed its frustration over the malicious act. Pakistan government’s public image suddenly transformed from the one of bartering strategic national interest in exchange with tenure longevity to the one of ‘most anti-America regime’ in Pakistan’s history. Going to the UNSC with an anti-America complaint is not a usual thing for Pakistan.
If Americans had aimed at embarrassing the Pakistan government through memo-leak, it has been paid back in the same coin. If the objective of memo-scandal was to draw a wedge between the political and military leadership, NATO attack has created ample ground of convergence between the two components of the national leadership. National response to these attacks has enhanced the public standing of the national leadership domestically and has accrued a sympathy wave for Pakistan from the international community. It is high time that America stops its dubious efforts of putting various components of Pakistani leadership on collision courses; it must and remember that they have a remarkable track record of joining hands on the matters of vital national interests.
Pakistan’s Permanent representative to the UN Ambassador Hussain Haroon acted swiftly. A day after the incident, he wrote to the UNSG Mr Ban-ki-Moon that: “ Coming in the early morning of 26 November, 2011, attack by NATO/ISAF aircraft on Pakistan’s border posts resulted in martyrdom of 24 officers and soldiers of Pakistan Army. Thirteen personnel were injured. I will be grateful if the appended document issued by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet on November 26 is forwarded to the Presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly with a request for its circulation as a document of the Security Council and the General Assembly.”
Significant decisions of the DDC included: closure of NATO's transit routes through Pakistani territory; to ask the US to vacate Shamsi airbase within 15 days; to "revisit and undertake a complete review" of all "programs, activities and cooperative arrangements" with the US, NATO and the ISAF, and to announce a whole range of further steps.
Attending or boycotting of the Bonn II conference would not make any material difference to Pakistan. In all probability, Bonn II is not expected to achieve anything beyond rhetoric. Its precursor, the ‘Istanbul Conference’ held during the last month had indicated divergent and mutually destructives ‘wheels within wheels’ kind of situation. World opinion was not coherent enough to expect anything similar to Bonn I. There were at least two clear opinions: American camp followers under the dubious identity of ‘Heart of Asia Nations’, and the alternative school of thought articulated by Russia, Pakistan, Iran and China. Former group was yearning for the imposition of a quick fix and the latter was striving to evolve a durable regional arrangement.
Afghan Taliban have already rejected the Bonn conference and have claimed that the ongoing “barbarism and aggression perpetrated by the invaders was the result of the first Bonn Conference in December, 2001…. Afghans are not expecting any goodwill but consider it another American trap…since the resolutions of first Bonn Conference, the Americans have slaughtered two hundred thousand innocent Afghans.” However, under these gloomy conditions, Pakistan has maintained its focus and has ‘reaffirmed its support for stability and peace in Afghanistan and the importance of an Afghan led, Afghan owned process of reconciliation.
A former Indian diplomat, M K Bhadrakumar, in his recent article ‘US and Pakistan Enter the Danger Zone’, has aptly commented that: “The air strike by the NATO at the Pakistani military post at Salala in the Mohmand Agency is destined to become a milestone in the chronicle of the Afghan war. Within hours of the incident, Pakistan's relations with the US began nose-diving and it continues to plunge… Exactly what happened – whether the NATO blundered into a mindless retaliatory (or pre-emptive) act or ventured into a calculated act of high provocation – will remain a mystery. Maybe it is no more important to know… the DDC simply proceeded on the basis that this was a calculated air strike – and by no means an accidental occurrence… in the Pakistan military's estimation, the NATO attack emanated from a US decision”.
Almost in sync with Pakistan’s response to the incident, Russia also threatened to halt American supplies to Afghanistan if its concerns about America’s missile defence plans in Europe are not addressed. American centre of gravity appears to be in a double jeopardy. Halting of containers’ movement by Pakistan will start to show its impact after several weeks when the cushioning stocks exhaust. American bluff has been called. It has been boasting of putting in place its alternative transit route ‘the Northern Distribution Network’ (NDN). At the critical time, Russians have sounded that they mean business and thus a deal. Apart from Russia other CIS states would soon claim their pound of flesh. Uzbekistan has made its position known that it would not allow the transit of lethal supplies through its soil. Tajikistan and other countries through which this network passes also have serious reservations; they opine that Afghan resistance groups’ could extend their operations to these courtiers to disrupt the logistic flow.
At least over the last one year, Russia has had serious reservations on the way America has treated it during some of the international events. America managed intervention in Libya triggered this friction. Military operations were in gross violation of the UN mandate restricted to ‘no fly zone’. Russian efforts to mediate between Qaddafi regime and his political opponents were deliberately sabotaged. Russia also feels that America is using it in a "selective partnership" module. Other points of divergence include American thrust for replay of Libyan episode in Syria and the ‘New Silk Route’ drama to make intrusive inroads into Central Asia.
This has been an ‘annus Horribilis’ for the PAK-US relations. All American promises of long term strategic engagement and of not abandoning Pakistan like the eighties etc have evaporate into thin air. Having had ample experience of American double speak, Pakistani public never trusted these sweet talks. There has been a colossal breakdown of diplomacy at the political, military and intelligence levels. The onus of this fiasco rests squarely on the US. It has not learnt any lesson from the Iranian experience that there is no quick fix against a strategic defiance by a resolute nation. Through its misadventure, America has indeed axed its own feet. American air violations are reminiscent of the Soviets’ run-away days from Afghanistan. Pakistan needs a political leadership of Prime Minster Junejo’s stature to specify unambiguous rules of engagement for its armed forces.