By Arab News
By Nasim Zehra
There should be no bravado or battle cries over Pakistan’s correct decision to boycott the Bonn conference on Afghanistan to reaffirm its earlier decision to temporarily stop NATO supplies through Torkham and Chaman and to review all ongoing cooperation with Washington and Kabul over all Afghanistan-related matters. Pakistan also wants Washington to vacate the Shamsi air base.
Despite some volatile episodes, this bilateral relationship remains important for both countries. In the coming days, if a degree of humility and reflection finds its way in the White House corridors, some way forward can definitely be found.
For Pakistan, these decisions have been tough and unprecedented. It is hard to recall a similar quick-footed yet appropriate response from Pakistan’s policy-makers, despite some more troubling developments in the past. Clearly with the Nov. 26 attack (the seventh by US forces on Pakistani territory including the May 2 deep strike operation) these decisions became necessary. It was time to draw a line and make clear the rules of business if the mutually beneficial cooperation is to continue.
Policy-making with realism and sobriety, without losing sight of the objective of peace in the region, is needed. Pakistan cannot be at peace with an Afghanistan in turmoil. And it is a sobering moment for Pakistan. All three majors, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US, are fairly suspicious of each other’s intentions. Hence developing a cooperative approach is a Herculean task. Still through this minefield of distrust, Pakistan and sections of the Obama administration, have painstakingly attempted to negotiate a common way forward. If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led this exercise from the American side, collective efforts have been under way with the Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani largely on board.
For Pakistan, the fallout of the Raymond Davis affair, the Abbottabad operation, Adm. Mike Mullen’s publicly articulated “compliments” to the ISI, have contributed to queering the anti-US pitch. And more import, the failed US policy in Afghanistan, its double-play on the Taleban and the human cost with 40,000 plus of its citizens including security personnel already killed, have also generated anger. Nevertheless Pakistan’s government, largely on the recommendations of the army leadership, has sought to keep the relationship with Washington moving forward.
And Afghanistan where turmoil continues will remain the focus of bilateral cooperation. Hence only hours before the attack, the International Security Assistance Force ISAF commander Gen. John Allen was seated with Gen. Kayani to work out the modus operandi to conduct joint border operations to prevent militant crossings from either side.
There is therefore an apparent keenness within Obama administration to develop, despite the distrust, a cooperative relationship with Pakistan. But the degree to which such willingness exists is tested most in times of crisis. As it has been after the Nov. 26 attack. Some incontrovertible facts as stated by Pentagon and NATO and ISAF regarding the attack are that there was an operation that was being conducted on the Afghan side of the border. The American troops, according to American claims, operating under the collective ISAF arrangement, were fired upon by the Pakistani post. They then contacted Pakistan’s 11 Corps. Whether they waited or not for the response is unclear but then they called for air support and the attacks began.
Pakistan claims there was no firing from the Pakistani post, that even after Pakistan’s DGMO informed ISAF commanders in Kabul of what happened, the attack continued. Such a claim, if true, raises fundamental question regarding the American and ISAF intent to seek Pakistani cooperation. It also supports the US critics within Pakistan’s security establishment who believe the US is not sincere about working on a joint exit strategy with Pakistan. It seeks only tactical cooperation, while pursuing strategically diverse goals including undermining Pakistan’s nuclear program, its armed forces and its regional position.
In how Washington and Washington-led ISAF respond to the Nov. 26 attack lies answers to some of these questions. Surely, the ISAF commander does not believe that Pakistan will agree to conduct joint border operations following the Nov. 26 attack on Pakistani territory and killing of Pakistani soldiers, violation of Pakistani sovereignty to be followed by ISAF’s refusal to apologize for what was clearly a violation of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) agreed upon by the two sides, which include alerting the other side to a planned operation.
Pakistan’s bagful of past blunders and even some questionable policy approaches cannot be taken as a license by any other country to act with impunity, as US has been doing, under the ISAF umbrella. In ISAF, US calls the shots, and hence has to be the lead respondent in the case that Pakistan has carefully built regarding the Nov. 26 attack. A wise and credible response from ISAF and Washington, that could have averted Pakistan’s tough response, should have been an immediate apology for violating the SOP requiring that the other side be informed when an operation near their border is conducted. Also ISAF and Washington should have announced an immediate and transparently conducted inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the attack.
— Nasim Zehra is a Pakistani security analyst.