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A new low in Pakistan-US relations

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Pakistanis have staged anti-NATO protests across the country in recent days. [Photo: EPA]By Kamal Hyder

The attack toook place in the dead of the night, and for more than two hours, American helicopters pounded a well-known and marked Pakistani post.

The Pakistani army frantically tried to convey to NATO, ISAF and the US high command in Afghanistan to stop the attack, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. By the time it was over, more than 24 soldiers lay dead, including officers, and over a dozen wounded.

The Pakistani post, known as Volcano, was where the two sides held their flag meetings. As such it was no secret, and under rules of engagement along this tricky frontier, the Pakistani side had ensured that all its posts were carefully marked in order to avoid being hit by mistake.

I myself spent several nights in the lonely posts where for the last 10 years Pakistani soldiers have manned a difficult border.

As far as I could see, small fires kept the troops warm, and also gave out their positions dotting the boundary line that separated Pakistani troops from US-led multinational forces operating on the Afghan side of the border.

Ironically it was the Americans who asked Pakistan to deploy troops on this border when they launched their invasion of Afghanistan almost ten years ago.

Hundreds rounded up

The main purpose of the deployment was to deny al-Qaeda fighters a chance to escape the bombardment in Tora Bora.

Pakistan rounded up hundreds of those fighters as they crossed the border into its territory. But while many were arrested, many others managed to filter into Pakistan. It was physically impossible for anyone to seal this border.

As the battles raged in Afghanistan and the Taliban made a dramatic comeback, the Americans were confronted with the prospect of a defeat or a protracted conflict, one they could ill afford given the poor state of their declining economy.

Whatever the arguments for or against the Afghan war, some debated that the end game was already in sight; but others warned that the end itself could prove to be more elusive.

Unable to find a quick solution to the Afghan quagmire, the US started looking for scapegoats. The "blame game" was now targeted against Pakistan.

After the operation to kill Osama bin Laden caught everyone by surprise, tensions started to mount on other fronts.

The Americans now wanted Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network and launch an assault in North Waziristan.

The Pakistani military was already battling the Pakistani Taliban in several areas, and was in mood to be sucked into yet another conflict.

Legitimate concerns

The military had legitimate concerns about the country’s eastern border, where the bulk of the Pakistani army was deployed after the Mumbai attacks, when India deployed her troops on its border with Pakistan.

No one was sure how long the uneasy relationship between the US and Pakistan would last, until things came to a head in the first week of May. The attack against bin Laden embarrassed the army, and despite quick congratulatory messages from the Pakistani prime minister, it rattled a paranoid government in Islamabad.

That government sent a letter to the US, a memo which became known as the "Memogate" scandal. It whipped up a storm in Pakistan and threatened the Pakistan People's Party-led government. The opposition shouted treason, and wanted a proper enquiry.

But while relations with Washington dipped, the Pakistani government chose a pro-American Pakistani journalist turned politician, Sherry Rehman, as the new ambassador to Washington.

The Americans were pleased, it seemed, in spite of the turbulence of the recent past, including wild accusations by senior US military commanders who blamed the Pakistani military for colluding with the enemy and playing a "double game."

But if the Americans thought the Pakistani civilian leadership, said to be the most corrupt in the country’s history and without any moral authority, was going to rein in the military establishment, then they were wrong.

The attack on the post in Mohmand agency proved beyond doubt that the people of Pakistan stood behind their proud army and were willing to go to battle with anyone who dared to strike across her borders.

Constant insult

The constant insult of the CIA-led drone strikes had already encouraged the anti-US sentiment, and a chain of events reinforced the opinion that the US was not to be trusted and that the country should reconsider the controversial alliance in the so called war on terror which brought death and destruction on Pakistan.

Even though the people wanted a swift retaliation after the strike, the country’s establishment was of the opinion that diplomatic means were the best option.

To begin with they closed the logistical route through Pakistan and asked for the closure of the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, from where the US drones carried out strikes inside Pakistan.

The base was provided to the UAE, and the UAE then passed it on to the US under what was a verbal agreement sanctioned by the military government of Pervez Musharraf.

That led many to question the competence of a so-called democratic government which, according to senior US sources, even sanctioned [also by verbal agreement] the continued strikes inside FATA.

How on earth was it possible that a second country could give away to a third country a leased base, without consent from the first country?

Pakistan was alarmed by the ferocity of the strike on Volcano, but the country’s president sent out his own message fearing for democracy and asking his supporters to beware of the threat to democracy.

The people of Pakistan and its its military forces, however, wanted to protect their country and their sovereignty first.


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