By S. M. Hali

The first anniversary of Operation Geronimo is a moment to reflect for all Pakistanis including the government, the armed forces and security agencies. The operation was a “successful” exercise in eliminating Osama Bin Laden (OBL) by US Navy SEALS but also targeted Pakistan’s sensitivities. Whereas on the one hand, the US State Department, Pentagon and CIA have been chest-thumping regarding targeting their number one enemy: OBL; on the other, their deriding erstwhile ally Pakistan, left a bad taste. This tirade continued despite the fact that the Pakistani Parliament took cognizance of the “presence” of OBL in Abbotabad and the possibility of intelligence failure on the part of Pakistani Security agencies. The US clandestine mission was successful because the security apparatus in Pakistan was not expecting an attack from its ally in the war on terror. Relations between the CIA and ISI had been souring since the Raymond Davis affair but in the decade following 9/11, Pakistan had gone the whole nine yards in apprehending over 600 Al-Qaeda operatives. Under these circumstances, the CIA/Pentagon’s deliberate sidelining of Pak Army/ISI in its “get Osama” mission due to security concerns is difficult to comprehend. The US President did inform his Pakistani counterpart after the successful completion of the mission but at the same time, Pakistan was chastised for allegedly “harboring” OBL.

After the briefing to a joint session of the Pakistani Parliament by the Army, Air Force and ISI Chiefs, the rap on their knuckles by the legislators, and formation of a judicial commission to inquire into events of the May 2 episode, the invective against Pakistan should have reduced but it reached a crescendo culminating in the November 26, 2011 NATO forces attack at the Pakistan Army check-post at Salala at the Pak-Afghan border increasing the Pak-US trust deficit. Some collateral damage owing to the fog of war may be condoned but this particular attack, involving US forces, appeared to be premeditated and deliberate since it continued for over 150 minutes and resulted in the loss of 25 Pakistani soldiers and officers’ lives.

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Revisiting the origin of “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the official name used by the US Government for the War in Afghanistan, one is struck by the fact that Pakistan bore the brunt of the operations but is paying heavily for failures of US forces. To begin with, the culpability of OBL being the real perpetrator of the 9/11 attack may have some credence but the handling of the case contravenes all norms of justice and fair-play. In response to the US President’s demand of the Afghan government to hand over OBL for trials as a war criminal, the Taliban demanded to examine the evidence against OBL stating that if he was implicated in the heinous crime, they would be willing to hand him over to a neutral third party for trial. A trigger happy George W. Bush, hell-bent upon exacting revenge for the 9/11 tragedy, became oblivious of local Afghan traditions of hospitality as well as the demands of international justice and attacked Afghanistan with full fury. Incessant bombing and the US’ use of reprehensible weapons like the “Daisy Cutter” bombs mowed down innocent Afghan women and children and unseated the Taliban regime but failed to eliminate them. Pakistan had proposed after the upstaging of the Taliban that the US bring them to the dialogue table rationalizing that vanquished Taliban would be willing to negotiate the terms of peace. Alas, submerged in the ecstasy of “triumph”, the US did not consider this option then. After surviving the heavy bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban reorganized and waged a series of guerrilla campaigns and have created serious problems for NATO, ISAF and the US, forcing the alliance to seek dialogue with the Taliban at this late stage.

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The Taliban and Al-Qaeda, on the other-hand, turned upon Pakistan to “punish” it for its US-alliance. Suicide bomb attacks and assaulting military and civilian targets became the order of the day and Pakistan has to-date sacrificed over 40,000 lives and lost over 69 billion US dollars for its participation in the war on terror. To add insult to injury, despite cooperating and handing over nearly 600 Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to the US, Pakistan became the object of US criticism of “not doing enough.”

This May 2nd, instead of contemplating ways and means of rekindling the blame game, which will only strengthen the terrorists, the US and Pakistan should bury the hatchet, respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty and combine resources to combat a common enemy.