United States-Pakistan relations may be the most watched diplomatic engagements in 2012 with reference to Afghanistan as US plans to pull out by 2014 and more importantly President Barack Obama prepares for re-election. After withdrawing troops from Iraq, all eyes are now on how Obama tackles the challenge in Afghanistan and whether you like it or not, US Pakistan relations have political, diplomatic and military consequences in this terrain. However, recent events do not give confidence that the year will be smooth for Washington and Islamabad, here is why?
|As both Pak and the US considered the relationship transitional for the past 10 years and have been pursuing their own interests regardless of overall impact on war against the Taliban no common ground for cooperation had been found.
U.S. Central Command responsible for operations in Afghanistan released an unclassified version of the investigation report on the incident of 26 November at the Salala post which led to death of 24 Pakistani servicemen. The investigation was conducted by Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark. The main conclusion of the enquiry as brought out by Central Command Commanding General James Mattis was lack of coordination and trust. “The strongest take-away from this incident,” Mattis said in a statement, “is the fundamental fact that we must improve border coordination, and this requires a foundational level of trust on both sides of the border.”
The enquiry established that on night of November 25 -26, an Afghan National Army Commando company and U.S. Army Special Forces conducted an operation in the area of the Afghan Pakistan border which was duly authorized by Regional Command-East. They were reported to have come under fire from positions on a ridge near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They reportedly used air support to engage the ridgeline positions in self defence. The air engagement lasted for 90 minutes, 45 minutes of which included firing. It was later discovered that the persons engaged on the ridge were personnel of the Pakistan Army.
Based on the findings of the enquiry report, Mattis directed ISAF Commanding General Allen to implement a number of actions particularly relating to trust, coordination and information exchange with Pakistan. Contents of the enquiry report were reportedly disclosed to Pakistan officials including the Chief of Army Staff, General Kiyani. The key area of concern emerged is of lack of coordination which resulted in engagement of Pak troops. Pakistan is not accepting this explanation and had already indicated that this was a deliberate attempt to cause casualties to troops. Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Major General Ashfaq Nadeem claimed before a Parliamentary Committee that attack on Salala check posts was part of a ‘plot’ and a pre-planned move as NATO helicopters continued firing till complete destruction of both the posts. Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas claimed that the location given by NATO ahead of the attack with reference to its operation was far from Salala. This has added to tensions between American commanders and Pakistani military brass.
With reports indicating that NATO may punish some of the officials involved this may assuage Pak sentiment to an extent. However, there is need for establishing greater trust between military commanders as well as coordinating staff on both sides and undertake joint visits on the ground to border areas to identify specific points on the ground to improve perception. Ironically with the best information resources in the World NATO failed in coordination denoting continued importance of human interventions avoiding exclusive reliance on technology.
In the meanwhile, Pakistan government has called for total review of relations with the US. The government has submitted US Pak agreements so far to the parliamentary sub committee on national security. Interior Minister Mr Rehman Malik indicated that the parliamentary committee will decide when NATO supply will be resumed. Thus it is apparent that the government is also wary of taking a decision and has shifted executive responsibility on a parliamentary committee.
With a relationship that was based purely on military and intelligence considerations Pakistan and the US may now have to restructure the same to a more holistic one involving the civil government as the days go by and memories of the Mohmand strike begin to fade. Pak Prime Minister has already laid down red lines that an Abbottabad like incident will not be acceptable thereby indicating some hope of restoration of amicability in the tense relations that had broken off after the incident of fratricide.
As both Pak and the US considered the relationship transitional for the past 10 years and have been pursuing their own interests regardless of overall impact on war against the Taliban no common ground for cooperation had been found. A relationship that had also seen large number of US personnel performing intelligence role such as Raymond Davis was also very precariously poised and how this is restructured now remains to be seen?
With increasing difficulties on the economic front faced by Pakistan this may be one route where the US could provide assistance that may be welcome not as aid but possibly by providing greater opportunity for trade and other concessions. The European Union could also expand trade relations despite the dire financial conditions in Europe to bale out Pakistan before the system collapses.