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A grim confrontation
Friday, December 02, 2011
From Print Edition
Are the Americans playing out a carefully choreographed scenario of regret and denial, or was this tragic attack on our soldiers actually an accident?
The evidence presented in a military briefing is damning. It was not just one aerial assault but two, with a gap of over thirty minutes. The first could have been an unfortunate mistake. The second was not. It took place after the Americans had been informed about their helicopters targeting Pakistani border posts. Yet, this did not stop them.
If this issue is settled – that the attack was deliberate – a huge question looms. Why did the US do it? What did it hope to achieve? On this, there was not much said in the briefing, but it is something that needs careful exploration. The motive is always a key part of any investigation.
Different scenarios can be built to search for it, and let us start with the most conspiratorial. The United States is provoking us to retaliate so that Pakistan can be declared an enemy. Once that Rubicon is crossed, an all-out assault can be launched on the country particularly targeting its nuclear programme.
This is something that many in Pakistan fear. It is not just paranoia because the theory that our nukes are not safe is constantly parroted in the US Congress, think tanks and the media. It has also prompted some in the West to declare Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world.
By playing on these fears through naked aggression on our border and repeated drone attacks, is the US boxing us into a corner? Is there no other option but to retaliate strongly and raise our level of belligerence against it?
The information that has come through about the assault leaving 24 soldiers martyred left the government with very little choice. It had to respond. An inflamed public opinion would tolerate nothing less than the steps already taken; stopping the Nato supply line, getting the Shamsi base vacated. Boycotting the Bonn Conference also has general approval. The state of our relations with the US is grim.
The real question is, can this retaliation be sustained? And if it is, have we carefully worked the ramifications? This needs to be done because we are reaching a point where partnership with US in the war in Afghanistan is becoming unsustainable. And not just from our point of view but also from theirs.
The Americans want us to launch an attack on the so-called insurgent havens in Pakistan that we see no advantage in doing. We want them to stop targeting our territory through drone attacks and other violations of our sovereignty that they are not willing to promise. How can this relationship be kept up?
The areas of convergence between the US and Pakistan are getting less and less. We want peace in Afghanistan and believe that without bringing the Afghan Taliban into the peace process no progress can be achieved. The Americans also want peace and there is some convergence in this, but the way they want it on their terms.
They believe in militarily degrading the Afghan resistance and then getting hold of quislings from within the Taliban movement to construct a broad-based government in Kabul. And they want to retain a presence in Afghanistan to police the arrangement they put in place.
It will not work because an entire people cannot be degraded through military means. What is happening in Afghanistan is a civil war in which the Americans have become a party with the Tajiks, Uzbeks and others of the so-called Northern Alliance against the Pakhtuns.
The Pakhtuns, who constitute a vast majority of the Taliban, will fight on as long as they are not given a clear stake in any post-war arrangement. They are also not willing to have the Americans stay on as a check on them.
By breaking a few of the militants by bribes or threats, as the US is doing, will not end the war. They will be seen as traitors and will be eliminated. Just this year nearly two hundred American collaborators have been murdered in Afghanistan. This will continue. The Pakhtuns will fight for generations and Americans will have to do the same if they want to hold Afghanistan on their own terms.
This is something that Pakistan has been trying to impress upon the Americans but with little success. Instead, the US military has found a scapegoat in Pakistan for its failure in this decade-long war. Its leadership both political and military also thinks that Pakistan is not cooperating because of its military, not the civilian leadership. This has made the Pakistani army and the ISI its consistent targets, and the US media and think tanks follow the line.
This brings me to the second possible reason for this terrible attack on the Pakistani border posts. It was designed to tarnish the Pakistan army by showing it to be helpless against American military prowess. If one stretches this a bit further, the timing too becomes important. It was done at a time when the civil government was under terrible pressure because of the Memogate scandal.
This is not as farfetched as it sounds because, as many have observed, the attack has turned the focus away from the memo scandal and raised questions about our armed forces’ ability to respond. In an odd way, it has also made the political arrangement at the top necessary because who would want instability at this point in time.
Another motive, and there is no reason why only one objective is sought to be achieved by a particular operation. For example, I have little doubt that the Abbottabad incident, while getting rid of Osama, was also designed to humiliate the Pakistani armed forces. Similarly, multiple objectives could have been a part of this blatant assault.
Thus, another motive could be to increase the threshold of acceptance within Pakistan of US military operations on its territory. This happened with the drone attacks. The first one was greeted with great outrage but since then little notice is taken of them. Maybe the Americans wanted to see how much of a reaction would come from Pakistan if it soldiers are deliberately murdered.
There is little doubt that we are being put to a test. If we remain firm in our resolve and continue with the blockade, unless an apology is issued at the highest level in the United States, we should not relent. We should also seek a serious commitment in writing that something similar would never happen again. If these conditions are not met, we should be ready to face the consequences.
A time comes in the history of nations, when resolve is needed. It has arrived for us. Is our leadership, both civil and military up to the challenge?
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