After Iran, America has lost another ally in Asia, the people of Pakistan, and that too for times to come. Neither public opinion would reverse nor would the national leadership be able to go against it.
By Air Commodore ® KhaIid Iqbal
Even after more than two months, public anger against America’s cowardly ambush in Abbottabad has not receded. It has changed in form. From an outrage against the armed forces, it has transformed into a national resolve; an anti-America attitude. Focus of anger has largely shifted from the armed forces to other reasons leading to Abbotabad fiasco. A recent survey indicated that 79% Pakistanis did not consider it as a military failure alone. It was a pleasant surprise for the people of Pakistan that for a decade their armed forces have been foregoing about 70% of American military aid to support civil sector economy.
After Iran, America has lost another ally in Asia, the people of Pakistan, and that too for times to come. Neither public opinion would reverse nor would the national leadership be able to go against it. In long term perspective, armed forces have no option but to scale back their dependence on American cash and technology. Once again, time tested strategy of self reliance and indigenization of ‘sanctions days’ needs to be re-invoked.
Armed forces of Pakistan held the Soviets at bay during their protracted occupation of Afghanistan. Political leadership of that time was clear about the status of war and its who’s who’. When Prime Minister Junejo gave clear orders to shoot intruding Soviet aircraft, even if they had to be chased into Afghanistan and shot down in Afghan airspace, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) displayed brilliant skills and shot down a number of intruders without any combat loss. Nation expects similar resolve and direction from the present political leadership.
Today, the PAF is equipped in a much better way; it has acquired additional capabilities and competencies. The only reason why it could not react to shoot the American intruders over Abbottabad is because who’s who about the so called war on terror is ambiguous at the national as well as at military leadership level. It was never envisaged that while those with whom PAF is fighting shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy would ditch it is such a way.
Likewise, only a year back ISI topped the ranking of ten best intelligence agencies of the world with a citation that its agents have never been caught under camera. Out of complacency it committed a cardinal sin of trusting CIA.
Beside other attributes Operation ‘Geronimo’ (Abbottabad attack) has a unique distinction of being an operation by a superpower against its own ally. It was indeed a stabbing at the back; a misadventure against an ally who had suffered the most in supporting America’s fight in so called war on terrorism. Had America publically announced the location of Osama, and asked for his extradition, in all probability Pakistan would have obliged. But Americans never wanted to capture Osama alive; they could not have absorbed his revelations during a fair and independent trial. Only dead Osama suited Americans. Adopted method also carried the advantage that Pakistan could be blamed for all American failures in Afghanistan. And a sense of insecurity could be created amongst the masses of Pakistan to rupture the bond of trust between the armed forces and the people.
Ongoing criticism of Pakistan on its ‘failure’ to do the US bidding or for providing safe havens to some groups of anti-US militants, as well as the mounting pressure for taking certain actions is a part of well thought out psychological war against Pakistan.
Venomous Secretary Defence Leon Panetta has promptly picked up the threads from where he left them as Director CIA. During his recent visit to Kabul, he urged Pakistan to go after Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Pakistan needs to call the bluff and ask Americans to pinpoint Al-Zawahiri’s exact location and make an offer of conducting a joint operation. The US media has also stepped up its campaign of vilification against Pakistan, by finding holes in the military and ISI’s performance and reincarnating the old stories regarding some former Generals’ kickbacks for allegedly supplying nuclear secrets to North Korea. Admiral Mike Mullen sternly stated that the Pakistani government had “sanctioned” the killing of a Pakistani journalist. American ambassador in Islamabad violated the diplomatic norms and made an uncalled for statement during recent Karachi disturbances.
Announcing the decision to hold back a portion of aid, the US said Pakistan was an important ally but there were “difficulties” to overcome in this relationship. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC television that Pakistan had “taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid”. “When it comes to our military assistance, we’re not prepared to continue providing that at the pace that we were providing it unless and until we see certain steps taken,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said. Pentagon has stated that Pakistan’s aid would be resumed if the expelled ‘trainers’ are again permitted to resume their functions. The US trainers stationed in Pakistan were monitored and found involved in illegal operations that aimed at acquainting themselves with the Pakistani terrain in FATA, KPH and Baluchistan. Hence they were expelled.
Reacting to American decision to withhold a portion of aid, Pakistan’s military spokesperson said, “The US decision will have no significant effect on Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts…The Pakistan Army will continue its operations in the tribal areas as it was doing in the past.” On an average, Pakistan gets $600 million a year under the Coalition Support Fund. During the recent years, flow of CSF was often interrupted on one flimsy pretext or the other. During the last ten years, against an expected figure of over US$ 13 b, Pakistan got US$ 8.6 b as military aid. Out of this amount, only US$ 2.6 b went to the military, rest was used by the government for civil sector budgetary support!
For quite some time, the American Joint Special Operation Command, in unison with infamous Black-water category troops, has been conducting assassinations of high value targets in Pakistan. This clandestine guerrilla war inside Pakistan was further hyped by General David Petraeus while he was commanding the US troops in Afghanistan, in collaboration with former CIA chief Leon Panetta. It is not without reason that the duo has been retained in Obama’s new war team.
Time has come for Pakistan’s national leadership to undertake a holistic review of Pakistan’s multidimensional relations with the US. There is a need to clearly articulate the steps that Pakistan would undertake in case of a repeat of Geronimo like cowardly act. Military leadership needs to come out of an aura of complacency and upgrade the readiness posture to minimise the chances of success of such operations in future. Moreover, public opinion needs to be informed that even with full military readiness, there would still remain some chances of success of such cowardly covert missions.
The Inquiry Commission looking into Abbottabad incident is expected to conduct a wholesome probe digging into the reasons that led to this strategic fiasco. It would be worthwhile to refer to the recommendations of Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission, and extent of their implementation. Commission must also evaluate the correctness of our national policy after 9/11 which led to incremental proliferation of American influence in some important institutions including the media. There is also a need to re-evaluate the military doctrine and the efficacy of our Higher Defence Organisation by comparing it with contemporary models. Commission would only do a worthwhile service to the nation if it comes out with convincing findings to fix the responsibility alongside concrete recommendations to avoid recurrences.