By Murad Khan
The recent NATO attack on Pakistan’s border outposts that claimed 24 lives of Pakistani soldiers had been widely condemned within that country. The tragic incident has further damaged the already fragile relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. Perhaps, this ratcheting up of tensions may be a needed call for restoring that relationship and in so doing set the region on a renewed path to lasting peace.
The NATO attack has afforded a golden opportunity to Pakistan’s powerful military to recuperate their lost credibility, trust, and confidence with the masses. The Pakistan military that once was considered as a savior of the country’s national security interests and sovereignty greatly lost their repute due to the U.S. raid in Abbotabad, controversial drones’ attacks, and number of cross-border violations by the NATO forces on Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Current various audacious actions on part of the Pakistan army clearly indicate their resolve and commitment to utilize this incident to the best of their advantage and reclaim their lost trust and respect with the masses of Pakistan.
In the wake of deadly NATO attack, the Pakistan Army has very smartly tapped into the genuine anti-American sentiments that pervade the Pakistani society across the board to reclaim their lost confidence. The pro-active strategy adopted by the army has deprived the weak political government headed by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari — who is the most disliked and unpopular political leader in Pakistan’s recent history. Resultantly, the fragile political government of Mr. Zardari is dancing to the Army’s tunes. At present, the Army leadership is in a better position to expand their role in an effective way in Pakistan’s foreign and national security policies as a result of the weak central political government, while at the same time remaining behind the scene.
The castigatory decisions of the Pakistan’s government to suspend the NATO supply line, vacate the Shamsi Airbase that was used by the CIA to conduct drones’ attack inside Pakistan, and boycott the Bonn conference on Afghanistan could prove to be a milestone in deciding future of the Pakistan-U.S. partnership in the ongoing war in the region. Some 80 percent of the fuel and other nonlethal supplies for NATO and U.S. for the war effort travel through Pakistan. In recent years, the coalition has added more supply lines through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) passing through the Central Asian republics. While, these new routes are more expensive, the current situation in Pakistan could make these supply lines costlier and challenging for the NATO forces operating in Afghanistan.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan and U.S. are deeply co-dependent on one another. However, considering the severity of the deadly attack coupled with numerous drones attack and previous violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the NATO forces, the long-lasting negative repercussions on the Pakistan-U.S. partnership in the War on Terror cannot be ruled out.
The United States truly recognizes that Pakistan is the only country that can guarantee their honorable departure and ensure a reasonably lasting peace in Afghanistan beyond 2014. “Ultimately, we can’t win the war in Afghanistan without being able to win in our relationship with Pakistan as well,” said the U.S. Defense Secretary , Leon E. Panetta in a recent statement while highlighting the crucial role of Pakistan in the region.
On the other hand, Pakistan may not be able to survive economically without direct and indirect support from the United States.
The outcome of the ongoing inquiry under Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark into the NATO attack could greatly decide the future course of Pakistan-U.S. partnership in the ongoing war in the region. Pakistan refused to be part of the inquiry as they claimed that in previous such inquiries where Pakistan was part of the panel, the outcome was never satisfactory and in many cases no one was penalized and Pakistan was always blamed for the loss of the lives of their soldiers in the NATO attacks.
If the outcome of the inquiry is below Pakistan’s expectations, Pakistan could seriously consider other strategic partnerships in the region to ensure their sovereignty, pacify domestic pressure, and support the sinking economy of the country.
The Unites States should ensure an unbiased inquiry into the attack and chastise those who were responsible for this unacceptable violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty that claimed 24 lives. Considering the severity of the attack and the prevailing anger in Pakistan against the U.S., the U.S. administration needs to show magnanimity in their approach towards Pakistan by giving a public apology to the people of Pakistan and give an assurance that such incidents will not be repeated in the future. This would greatly help in defusing the present anger among Pakistani masses against the U.S. and give some breathing space to the political government and the Army to resume their partnership with the U.S. in the ongoing war against extremist elements in the region. Failing to do so could have long-lasting negative implications for the Pakistan-U.S. relationship, political stability in Afghanistan, ongoing NATO operations in Afghanistan, and future of the region beyond 2014.