US and Pakistan Enter the Danger Zone

Editor’s note: The article speaks of a marked difference in strategy by Pakistan in dealing with US. It becomes even more pronounced with Pakistan’s boycott of Bonn Conference to discuss the future of Afghanistan. The writer, however, trivializes the blood of Pakistanis in this attack by NATO forces . Elise Jordan’s article on the relationship between US & Pakistan is a no bullshit , face it write up :

(These two officers — Major Mujahid and Captain Usman — died together on Slala post defending pak sarzameen! Captain Usman has a daughter only 3 months old !!!)

By M K Bhadrakumar

The air strike by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at the Pakistani military post at Salala in the Mohmand Agency on the Afghan-Pakistan border Friday night is destined to become a milestone in the chronicle of the Afghan war.

Within hours of the incident, Pakistan’s relations with the US began nose-diving and it continues to plunge. NATO breached the ”red line”.

What is absolutely stunning about the statement issued by Pakistan’s Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DDC), which met Saturday at Islamabad under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani is that it did not bother to call for an inquiry by the US or NATO into the air strike that resulted in the death of 28 Pakistani soldiers.

Exactly what happened in the fateful night of Friday – whether the NATO blundered into a mindless retaliatory (or pre-emptive) act or ventured into a calculated act of high provocation – will remain a mystery. Maybe it is no more important to know, since blood has been drawn and innocence lost, which now becomes the central point.

At any rate, the DDC simply proceeded on the basis that this was a calculated air strike – and by no means an accidental occurrence. Again, the DDC statement implies that in the Pakistan military’s estimation, the NATO attack emanated from a US decision. Pakistan lodged a strong protest at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels but that was more for purpose of ‘record’, while the “operative” part is directed at Washington.

The GHQ in Rawalpindi would have made the assessment within hours of the Salala incident that the US is directly culpable. The GHQ obviously advised the DDC accordingly and recommended the range of measures Pakistan should take by way of what Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani publicly called an “effective response.”

The DDC took the following decisions: a) to close NATO’s transit routes through Pakistani territory with immediate effect; b) to ask the US to vacate Shamsi airbase within 15 days; c) to “revisit and undertake a complete review” of all “programs, activities and cooperative arrangements” with US, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), including in “diplomatic, political and intelligence” areas; d) to announce shortly a whole range of further measures apropos Pakistan’s future cooperation with US, NATO and ISAF.

No more doublespeak 
The response stops short of declaring the termination of Pakistan’s participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan (which, incidentally, is the demand by Pakistani politician Imran Khan who is considered to be close to the Pakistani military circles). In essence, however, Pakistan is within inches of doing that.

The closure of the US-NATO transit routes through Pakistan territory may not immediately affect the coalition forces in Afghanistan, as it has built up reserve stocks that could last several weeks. But the depletion of the reserves would cause anxiety if the Pakistani embargo is prolonged, which cannot be ruled out.

Therefore, the Pakistani move is going to affect the NATO operations in Afghanistan, since around half the supplies for US-NATO troops still go via Pakistan. An alternative for the US and NATO will be to rely more on the transit routes of the Northern Distribution Network [NDN]. But the US and NATO’s dependence on the NDN always carried a political price tag – Russia’s cooperation.

Moscow is agitated about the US regional policies. The NATO intervention in Libya caused friction, which deepened the Russian angst over the US’s perceived lack of seriousness to regard it as equal partner and its cherry-picking or “selective partnership”.

Then, there are other specific issues that agitate Moscow: US’s push for “regime change” in Syria, the US and NATO appearance in the Black Sea region, continued deployment of US missile defense system, and the push for US military bases in Afghanistan. In addition, Moscow has already begun circling wagons over the US “New Silk Road” initiative and its thrust into Central Asia.

The future of the US-Russia reset remains uncertain. Washington barely disguises its visceral dislike of the prospect of Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin following the presidential election in March next year. Short of bravado, the US and NATO should not brag that they have the NDN option up their sleeve in lieu of the Pakistani transit routes. The Pakistani military knows this, too.

Equally, the closure of the Shamsi airbase can hurt the US drone operations. Pakistan has so far turned a blind eye to the drone attacks, even conniving with them. Shamsi, despite the US’s insistence that drone operations were conducted from bases in Afghanistan, surely had a significant role in terms of intelligence back-up and logistical support.

By demanding that the US vacate Shamsi, Pakistan is possibly shifting its stance on the drone attacks; its doublespeak may be ending. Pakistan is ”strengthening” its air defense on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Future US drone operations may have to be conducted factoring in the possibility that Pakistan might regard them as violations of its air space. The US is on slippery ground under international law and the United Nations Charter.

A Persian response 
The big issue is how Pakistan proposes to continue with its cooperation with the US-NATO operations. Public opinion is leaning heavily toward dissociating with the US-led war. The government’s announcement on the course of relations with the US/NATO/ISAF can be expected as early as next week. The future of the war hangs by a thread.

Unlike during previous phases of US-Pakistan tensions Washington lacks a “Pakistan hand” to constructively engage Islamabad. The late Richard Holbrooke, former special AfPak envoy, has become distant memory and special representative Marc Grossman has not been able to step into his shoes.

Admiral Mike Mullen has retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is now a ‘burnt-out case’ embroiled in controversies with the Pakistani military. Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus isn’t terribly popular in Islamabad after his stint leading the US Central Command, while his predecessor as spy chief and now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta always remained a distant figure.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a charming politician, but certainly not cut out for the role of networking with the Pakistani generals at the operational level. She could perhaps offer a healing touch once the bleeding wound is cleansed of dirt, stitched up and bandaged. And US President Barack Obama, of course, never cared to establish personal chemistry with a Pakistani leader, as he would with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Now, who could do that in Washington? The horrible truth is – no one. It is a shocking state of affairs for a superpower with over 100,000 troops deployed out there in the tangled mountains in Pakistan’s vicinity. There has been a colossal breakdown of diplomacy at the political, military and intelligence level.

Washington trusted former Pakistani ambassador Hussein Haqqani almost as its own special envoy to Islamabad, but he has been summarily replaced under strange circumstances – probably, for the very same reason. At the end of the day, an intriguing question keeps popping up: Can it be that Pakistan is simply not interested anymore in dialoguing with the Obama administration?

The heart of the matter is that the Pakistani citadel has pulled back the bridges leading to it from across the surrounding crocodile-infested moat. This hunkering down is going to be Obama’s key problem. Pakistan is boycotting the Bonn Conference II on December 2. This hunkering down should worry the US more than any Pakistani military response to the NATO strike.

The US would know from the Iranian experience that it has no answer for the sort of strategic defiance that an unfriendly nation resolute in its will to resist can put up against an ‘enemy’ it genuinely considers ‘satanic’.

The Pakistani military leadership is traditionally cautious and it is not going to give a military response to the US’s provocation. (Indeed, the Taliban are always there to keep bleeding the US and NATO troops.)

Washington may have seriously erred if the intention Friday night was to draw out the Pakistani military into a retaliatory mode and then to hit it with a sledgehammer and make it crawl on its knees pleading mercy. Things aren’t going to work that way. Pakistan is going to give a “Persian” response.

The regional situation works in Pakistan’s favor. The recent Istanbul conference (November 2) showed up Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran sharing a platform of opposition to the US bases in Afghanistan in the post-2014 period.

The Obama administration’s grandiose scheme to transform the 89-year period ahead as ‘America’s Pacific Century’ makes Pakistan a hugely important partner for China. At the very minimum, Russia has stakes in encouraging Pakistan’s strategic autonomy. So does Iran.

None of these major regional powers wants the deployment of the US missile defense system in the Hindu Kush and Pakistan is bent on exorcising the region of the military presence of the US and its allies. That is also the real meaning of Pakistan’s induction as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is on the cards.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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  • FB Ali  On November 30, 2011 at 3:18 am

    Several significant questions arise regarding the Shamsi airbase which, surprisingly, are not being asked in Pakistan.

    Is the airbase out of bounds to Pakistanis, including officials? If not, why don’t we know whether there are any Americans there after the earlier order to quit? If there aren’t any, obviously this new order to quit is a tamasha. If we do know that they’re there, then we must have been complicit in either not enforcing the earlier order, or in letting them come back. Who is responsible?

    If it is out of bounds, was this since the original handover to the UAE or since the US came in? If the former, then was sovereignty relinquished over this piece of Pakistani territory? Who committed this treason?

  • AK  On November 30, 2011 at 3:46 am

    Well written but I beg to differ on one point and that is this being a milestone in the Afghan war, I see it more as a milestone or turning point in US-Pak Alliance on the “War on Terror”.

    As a Pakistani belonging to the North, it is a fitting end to what I think was a criminal alliance between the Pak army and the US government which Musharaff instigated. If any of my comments are on record during the last couple of years, I have been against Pak government policy vis a vis US invasion of Afghanistan. But then I also have an issue with Pak policy vis a vis the Taliban. The US and Pak governments may have “created” the Taliban but if they are primarily Pukhtun tribes, then they are in no one’s control. I have Dari speaking Afghan friends – nationals in Kabul who want foreign troops to leave , most of the Afghan Pukhtuns certainly do irrespective of whether or not they sympathize with he Taliban.. So the popular propaganda of attributing Taliban activities Pak Army and agencies’ influence reflects poor appreciation of the Afghan people and their history and the mess the British made with their Durand line here. (besides the mess teh British they made with the creation of a Jewish state for all the Jews Europe kicked out. The ethnic Jews always lived in harmony with their neighbors but thats another story, linked but another story!) The Pak side certainly may have gained personal or institutional benefits from the situation but their influence is over rated. Remember the trusim, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, so you can give money to the Taliban but you can’t make them work for you.

    US history shows that if you give the US govt enough rope they always hang themselves. But then arrogance has always preceded “fall” and so it has been with US decisions in this region particularly with Pakistan. Pres Obama though most worthy was “wet behind the ears” when it came to foreign policy.

    Personally, I am very happy with US action, which has finally compelled the Govt/Army to do what they should have done since 2006. I am sorry for the Jawans but I still grieve for the Shuhadah in my family, for so many of my friends and my people who have died or been widowed and the children senselessly orphaned and traumatized. So many have been crippled and disabled by the US Saviour role in KPK, displacement exacerbated by horrible domestic policies not to mention rampant corruption aided and abetted by donor funds and practices of diplomacy and all in collusion with the Army. Now that the Americans took the idiotic step of directly hitting the Army, this institution is feeling the pain we felt all through the Musharraf regime and the Zardari regime which continued the same policies for personal gain.

    For me it is now a question of whether the Pak government will hold fast to their stance or will they betray their own people once again and give in to an Imperialistic power who has played the role of a terrorist in this region while their press supported by their British/EU allies have made sure that Pakistan which has the natural and human capital to become an economic leader remains isolated and thus dependent on their aid. This way they can exploit our resources while they position themselves to undermine the growth of China and India even as they benefit from trade with them.

    Question is will the Pak government play the doormat again and betray their own people? Also what do Pakistan’s neighbors including Russia have to say to this and other such desperate actions that the US and NATO forces will be taking to cover their shame over the losses they have experienced during a senseless war which has a dubious outcome?

    I think the Pak Govt should strengthen its ties with its neighbors including Iran. Also I have always believed that despite the history a neighbor that shares borders may be a rival but would never wish for the degree of instability and internal turmoil that questionable allies on the other side of the globe.would be indifferent to.

    I think that as global citizens we cannot afford to have enemies but at the same time if someone is behaving like an enemy then they should be recognized as such. The UN should be approached and the US government should be charged with War crimes against the Pakistani people in the North in fact with genocide of the Pukhtun people.

  • Ijaz Khan  On November 30, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Excellent Article YAA. Good idea to head off with Editor’s note & link.
    Keep it up.

  • Syed Ataur Rahman  On November 30, 2011 at 4:48 am

    Mr Bhadrakumar’s article is very apt and his understanding of Pakistani mind set is good. The actions taken by the Pakistan government after the US attack was the long desire of the people of Pakistan. It is hoped they will not be bullied and capitulate on this moral and just decision. This is the time for the Pakistani nation to stand up and face up the ridicule and partisan treatment Pakistan has been receiving for so long despite doing the dirty work for the United States in Afghanistan. This incident gives the country a justified motive to breakaway from the immoral alliance with the US.

  • K. Hussan Zia  On November 30, 2011 at 6:11 am

    For what it is worth, I agree with what AK writes. It is distressing to learn of his personal loss. The lives of Pakistanis have been made cheap by their leaders. Compare this with the reaction in Brazil when one of its citizens was shot dead by the police in London in 2005. Relations between the two countries have remained strained ever since and Britain cannot apologise or pay enough compensation to make amends. Unlike Pakistan, Brazil is not even a nuclear power.

    Considering that the Pakistani posts remained under attack for five or six hours, any possibility of mistaken identity is ruled out. What remains to be determined are two things —- what was the US motive in committing this brutality and why the Pakistan Army and Air Force left the beleaguered troops to their fate for so long? Explanations are needed on both these scores.

    Becoming a party to the US occupation of Afghanistan was a huge mistake. It has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis, both civilian and military. According to Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN the country has lost more than one hundred and fifty billion dollars fighting a war that was not ours. Pakistani leaders are also accessories, if not complicit in the crimes against humanity committed by the US in Pakistan. There is nothing to show for it in return other than the exhortation to do more and periodic kicks in the pants.

    The problem in Afghanistan has become a problem for Pakistan. The US would like a solution that is manifestly not in the interest of Pakistan. They have not succeeded in bringing it about after ten years of use of force and brutality and there is no light at the end of the tunnel either. For Pakistan to continue being a part of this insanity at such cost to herself is beyond comprehension.

    The war in Afghanistan will not end as long as long as foreign troops remain in the country. What keeps them there is the facility afforded to NATO by Pakistan. In other words, we are the architects of our own misery and destruction. Recent events have provided another opportunity to hasten the withdrawal of NATO troops by withdrawing our support.

    Will we take it? Given the past track record of our flawed leadership, I for one, will not be betting any money on it. Pakistan will continue to be sold down the river as long as the present jokers remain in positions of power. Time will tell.

  • kbajwa .  On November 30, 2011 at 7:55 am

    By and large a good article.

  • Minhaj  On November 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Respected Mr. Bhadrakumar,

    A very well written article and thanks to the Pakpotpourri editor for sharing.

    Dr. Minhaj Qidwai

  • MAB  On November 30, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Very well written but misses the central problem.

    Pakistan and Us had differing perceptions about Afghan settlement.

    Neither has a workable solution to wrap up the war they jointly started and promoted.


  • Ayaz Ahmed Khan  On November 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Excellent analysis by ambassador Bhadrakumar. Ordering Washington to close Shami Air Base within fifteen days is display of bravado which must be taken to its logical conclusion. In my article titled SHAMSI AIR BASE published by the Defence Journal, I had highlighted the grave insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty; in that its own soil was being used by the US to bomb Pakistani territory and kill Pakistani citizens. Washington is unlikely to pull out of Shamsi Air base in a hurry. What are Pakistan’s options to force Washington to comply with the Pakistani ultimatum?

  • Joseph Colinino  On December 2, 2011 at 1:40 am

    Feeling so useless.


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