Opening of supply lines will intensify terrorism in Pakistan
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Once the might of US military-NATO got bogged down in the swamp of Afghanistan, rather than making corrections at its end, Pentagon and CIA made Pakistan a scapegoat and blamed it for all their faults. Finding no explanation to offer for their dismal performance despite enjoying all the strategic and technical advantages, the US after playing up extremist threat to the integrity of Pakistan and drumming up the vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear program, it started portraying North Waziristan (NW) as the biggest den of terrorists wherefrom cross border attacks were launched against ISAF inside Afghanistan. Instead of learning from history and putting their own house in order and introducing some innovative training concepts matching the challenges faced as had been done by Gen Kayani, Gen McChrystal followed by Gen Petraeus and Gen John Allen kept fighting guerrilla war on conventional lines.
Pakistan was consistently pressed to launch another major operation in NW from early 2010 onwards despite Pakistan repeatedly expressing its difficulties that the Army had already stretched to its limits, was suffering from serious resource constraints and was striving to rebuild war torn regions and then transferring to civil administration. Cautious Gen Petraeus insisted that unless NW was cleared, he couldn’t undertake an offensive in Kandahar, nor could he make any progress in Afghanistan. Pakistan was repeatedly nudged to shift bulk of its troops from eastern border to western border since in Washington’s loopy perception India didn’t pose any threat to Pakistan’s security.
Pakistan’s reluctance to initiate another operation at the cost of losing balance became a sour point and it was amid building tensions that incident of Raymond Davis took place in January 2011 which further strained Pak-US relations. The entire leadership of USA including Obama lied to get Davis freed on the false pretext that he was a diplomat. Even when Davis was let off without interrogation, the US never forgave Pakistan. It got worked up when the ISI started taking precautionary measures in the wake of information that large number of CIA agents under different guises had sneaked into Pakistan.
CIA was not willing to wind up its network since by then it had smelt the hideout of OBL in Abbottabad with the help of its agent Dr Shakil Afridi through his infamous polio vaccination campaign. Initial intelligence about OBL had been provided by ISI in September 2010. Pak Army’s defiance and space squeezing by ISI outraged Leon Panetta and it was decided to discredit both the Army and ISI, give a shot in the arm of depressed US military and also to catapult political fortunes of Obama by killing OBL through a stealth operation.
In continuation of its policy of defamation, the US berated Pak Army and ISI through a sustained media campaign but when it failed to achieve desired results, it decided to play up memogate scandal with the help of Mansoor Ijaz to strain civil-military relations and stir up clash between Executive and Army. Admiral Mike Mullen kept the memo forwarded by Pakistan’s Ambassador Hussein Haqqani through Mansoor and Jim Jones in May 2011 for use at an appropriate time. Haqqani had suggested that a new security team of Pak Army/ISI under him would enable the US to fulfill all its objectives against Pakistan. When all these bullying tactics failed to cow down Army/ISI, myopic US military leadership in sheer desperation and anger struck Salala thinking that this act would for sure frighten Pakistan. It proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back.
Salala attack was the consequence of pent up rage of the US military that was building up like a lava since the launch of three outstanding operations by Pak military in 2009 under highly adverse conditions which put to shame the US military and NATO boasting to be unbeatable. The ISAF had been facing repeated reversals on all fronts in Afghanistan even after two troop surges of 30,000 US troops and expansion of Afghan National Army (ANA). The Taliban had wrested the initiative and perforce, the ISAF had to withdraw most of its forward border posts and it took up a rearward posture in southern and eastern Afghanistan by the end of 2009.
Pakistan’s reaction to Salala incident was swift and firm. Shamsi airbase and two NATO supply routes to Afghanistan were closed. Parliamentary Committee for national security was asked to pen down fresh terms of engagement with USA, NATO and ISAF and to scrutinize all agreements. Of all the steps taken closure of supply routes hurt USA the most and it applied variety of coercive tactics to force Pakistan to terminate the embargo without seeking an apology and end to drone strikes. These included cutting 58% US aid, suspending CSF, threatening to block rest of the aid, initiating a bill in support of independence of Balochistan, announcing $10 million award money for Hafiz Saeed, calling Pakistan black hole and a failing state, threatening to launch another unilateral military action, prompting India to stand up as the major power in Asia-Pacific, and to takeover security duties in Afghanistan post 2014, stirring up Karachi, rural Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, and making some regions in FATA restive that were made peaceful, inviting President Zardari to Chicago Summit and then cold shouldering him. Efforts to denigrate the Army, FC and ISI on the issue of missing persons in Balochistan with the help of local media, human rights activists, Baloch nationalists, Asma Jahangir, Najam Sethi and their types has continued. The US has renewed pressure to eliminate safe havens of HN in NW.
Finding themselves in a tight corner, attitude of US leaders became more threatening. Trust deficit widened and warmth was replaced by coldness, bitterness and acrimony. It seemed that the tenuous linkage might sap anytime since the US refused to tender apology over Salala attack and to discontinue drone war. The ice suddenly melted when Gen Allen apologized to Gen Kayani and Hillary Clinton to Hina Rabbani. This gesture was short of official apology. The US agreed to release $1.1 billion CSF it had withheld. Containers have started plying but the decision has antagonized Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP), religious right, PTI and PML-N. Difah-e-Pakistan-Council (DPC), a collection of 40 parties/groups took out a long march from Lahore to Islamabad and another one from Quetta to Chaman while Jamaat-e-Islami protested in Karachi to force the government to reverse its decision and not to sign the MoU. PTI is also planning to organize a long march. DPC is looked down upon by the liberals as a bunch of bigoted people but they forget that their stated intents to save Pakistan are noble. None among the DPC leaders has a soiled past and none espouse corruption and promote evil.
TTP has threatened to strike the containers and security forces while Imran Khan has announced that he will lead a rally to Waziristan and show to the world that those killed by drones are innocent Pakistanis and not foreign terrorists. In short, the decision to reopen supply lines on one hand has eased the uneasy Pak-US relationship, but on the other hand it has polarized the society. Coming months are likely to witness increase in acts of terrorism resulting in more bloodshed, which suits USA and to an extent the dysfunctional government, which may shun the demand of early elections on the plea of disturbed law and order situation.