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The winds of change?

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US droneBy Kamal Hyder

Fata, or the federally administered tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border, have the same status as Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, which too is a federal territory. As such, any attacks inside this territory are therefore a direct attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan. In a unanimous decision, the country’s parliament condemned and asked for a halt in the US cross border drone (pilotless aircraft) strikes but despite that they have continued.

Many critics say parliament is a toothless body mired in its own intrigues and power struggles and the government far too dependent on the US to do anything that may jeopardise the country's relations with Washington. Despite denials by the government, senior defence and stratagic analysts concluded that the Americans could not be carrying out an unrelenting assault on Pakistan’s tribal areas without a secret deal with the government.

On many occasions the government has not even bothered to comment on the US strikes which have sometimes been taking place while senior US officials are on Pakistani soil. Now it appears patience may be wearing thin after the recent Nato cross border incursions inside Pakistan that killed over 40 people, including three Pakistani security personnel on a border post. After recent attacks on Nato bound convoys in Pakistan, some senior analysts warned that these attacks would grow and even the government was forced to admit that what was unfolding was, in fact, a public backlash.

They say the tribal areas always prepare for war when they have taken care of their crops and stored the wheat to help them through another long approaching winter. With food for the women and children, the men were free for war. In peacetime they would settle feuds and fight battles over land, wealth or women. But history is replete with examples where they have rallied behind each other in times of conflict, and specially when it is against foreign occupation or invading forces.

For centuries these proud and brave people have defied empires and sometimes beaten much larger and more sophisticated and technologically advanced militaries with state of the art military hardware. Once again it seemed history was repeating itself and another empire was finding a way out of Afghanistan. For those familiar with this area, that was only possible with Pakistan's co-operation and that for the moment was on hold because of the recent Nato strikes inside Pakistan's tribal areas.
 
Pakistan closed the famous Khyber Pass for Nato supplies and hundreds of trucks were stranded on the border at Torkham, making them an attractive target. Nato fuel supplies were torched as far south as Shikarpur in Sindh, and another attack took out more fuel tankers near Islamabad in what even the government admitted was a public reaction to the Nato attacks.

The question was when would Pakistan shut this logistical supply line to the Americans who unleashed a wave of drone attacks? There was widespread outrage over the cross border strikes whether manned or unmanned and some people were warning that if the US and Nato did not stop killing people inside Pakistan’s international border, the people would take matters into their own hands and strike at these convoys, which in the end would seriously jeopardise the US-led war effort in Afghanistan.

Senior US commanders have already admitted the war in Afghanistan is not winnable. If the Americans and their allies were having problems in stabilising Afghanistan, their key ally Pakistan needed more careful handling. The government may be an ardent supporter of America’s so called war on terror, but on that count it did not have its people’s support who saw the costly alliance as nothing more than a deliberate policy of slow death unleashed on Pakistan.

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's Pakistan correspondent, reports from across the country.


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