By Boris Volkhonsky
As reported by the BBC on Thursday, the US military has admitted it bears significant responsibility for last month’s air strike on the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
On November 26, the U.S. air force launched a strike on Pakistani territory close to the Pakistan – Afghan border. Until recently, the Pentagon’s stance was unequivocal – the U.S. soldiers had been acting in self-defense and bear no responsibility for what happened. After that, a number of mass rallies took place all over Pakistan under anti-American slogans, and the government took an unprecedented decision to block the “southern” supply route of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan via Pakistani territory.
The situation further deteriorated with the alleged sickness of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari who left the country for treatment in Dubai reportedly fearing a military takeover. Zardari has always been regarded as one of the last faithful U.S. minions in Pakistan, and the anti-American turn Pakistani policy has taken under his presidency speaks for itself – there is virtually no one in Pakistan who is ready to blindly follow the orders from Washington.
The prospects of losing the southern supply route probably underlies the compromise the U.S. military decided to demonstrate. In fact, there is an alternative to the route via Pakistan – that is, the “northern” route via Russia and Central Asia. But that route is much longer and much more expensive. More so, certain recent clearly anti-Russian statements and moves made in the U.S., like the decision to arm Georgia, have led the American authorities to the conclusion that the “northern” route is also vulnerable. The prospect of losing both is unacceptable in American eyes.
Most probably that is why on Thursday the Pentagon spokesman expressed “deep regret” over the November 26 incident. The official Pentagon statement says that the U.S. and Afghan troops acted in self defense, but conceded there had been a lack of proper co-ordination with Pakistani forces.
“Inadequate co-ordination by US and Pakistani military officers operating through the border co-ordination centre – including our reliance on incorrect mapping information shared with the Pakistani liaison officer – resulted in a misunderstanding about the true location of Pakistani military units,” says the statement.
Definitely, such half-hearted recognition – not of a mistake, but only of a possibility of a mistake – could not and was not accepted by the Pakistanis. Pakistani army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said Pakistan does not agree with the US findings because they are “short on facts.” “A detailed response will be given as and when the formal report is received,” he said in a statement.
The atmosphere of mistrust between the U.S. and Pakistan is still there. But without confidence in its long-time ally-turn-opponent, no successful operation in the neighboring Afghanistan (to say nothing of the possible war against Iran) is possible. Hence, the U.S. is still facing a dilemma – whether to continue its pressure and arm-twisting against Pakistani authorities and trying to find pro-American henchmen in the political elite (which looks more and more like a Mission Impossible), or to admit all the wrongdoings and try to mend the relations by stepping back.
So, it’s a matter of choice between stubbornness and pragmatism. With the military fervor obviously taking the upper hand in American politics, especially while the election campaign is gaining momentum, the former option seems more and more probable. But excessive stubbornness can lead to only one thing – the ultimate U.S. failure in Afghanistan and total isolation and loss of allies in that vital region.