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Kayani needs to ‘do more’

October 7, 2010

Dan Qayyum

A little arm-twisting by Pakistan’s Army Chief goes a long way these days in the Af-Pak theater, as evident from US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson’s belated apology – the latest in a series of apologies meted out in the last few hours by senior US and NATO officials – for NATO choppers intruding into Pakistani territory and killing three Pakistani border guards as they attacked a checkpost.


The US army does not usually apologize for ‘mistakes’ committed by its soldiers, as it is said to negatively affect the morale of American soldiers who are already finding it hard to wade off the battle fatigue and exhaustion from a seemingly endless war. At most ‘regret’ is expressed on occasion and fingers pointed on anyone but the soldiers. And this is what makes this series of apologies significant.

Looking back at the events of the past week, the NATO helicopters crossed over into Pakistani territory in the early hours of Thursday September 30th and attacked a military post at Mandato Kandao in Upper Kurram Agency – the same day that the CIA Chief Leon Panetta arrived in Islamabad for a series of meetings with both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan.

Footage belies NATO claims

Dramatic footage of the deadly attack on Mandato Kandao leaves little doubt about the violation by Afghanistan-based foreign forces. Contrary to NATO commanders’ initial claims of firing in self-defense on September 30, the images shown on in the footage of the smoldering security post tells a different story.

The video shows Nato aircraft hovering over the security post before blowing it up. Three paramilitary soldiers were killed in the attack. The video filmed from a distance shows the post being reduced to rubble. According to local people, the dead and injured had suffered severe burn injuries.

The shift in strategy reflects view in the US that, with Pakistan’s unwillingness to do the job, more U.S. action against alleged terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan is now needed to salvage the failing Afghan war effort across the border.

The September 30th helicopter attack was the last in a series of such attacks that began over a week ago. On September 24th, NATO helicopters ‘responded to an attack’ on a combat outpost near the Pakistan border by firing on ‘insurgents’ inside Pakistan. Helicopters returned on two following days, were apparently fired on again from Pakistan, and again returned fire.

NATO commanders view these cross-border helicopter strikes as incidents of “hot pursuit” and actions of self-defense while under fire. Pakistani officials, by contrast, no doubt view this string of attacks as a case of NATO probing to see how far they can push into Pakistani territory.

Islamabad responded to the killing of its soldiers by shutting a key border crossing used to supply Western forces in Afghanistan and threatening to halt NATO container traffic altogether. On Friday, militants in Pakistan attacked tankers carrying fuel toward another border crossing, in another sign of the vulnerability of NATO supply lines crossing Pakistani territory.

The attack on the security post last Thursday went too far in testing Pakistan Army’s patience. Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiyani is reported to have used the scheduled meeting with the CIA chief Leon Panetta to deliver a strong warning that any intrusions by US or NATO aircraft in future will face full and decisive retaliatory counter-measures. Kiyani also sent a high level investigation unit to Kabul to jointly investigate the air strikes with NATO and has demanded disciplinary action against the personnel involved as well as a public apology from the United States and NATO. In the last seven days, militants have carried out seven attacks on tankers and trucks bearing supplies for NATO and US forces, destroying or damaging more than 150 vehicles and killing at least six people.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council think-tank, feared political repercussions from the border violence. Such incidents “feed the paranoia inside Pakistan’s military and civil establishments that perhaps there is some sort of master plan to take advantage and cross the border at will,” Nawaz said.

“There is a very strong possibility that it could get out of hand,” he added.

Apology

The U.S. apology, which came after a joint investigation by NATO and Pakistan, appeared to be an attempt to ease strains between Washington and Islamabad. U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson apologized to Pakistan on Wednesday for the Sept. 30 NATO helicopter incursion that led to the soldiers’ deaths, prompting analysts to predict the Islamabad government may soon reopen the crossing.

NATO acknowledged that its helicopters strayed into Pakistani airspace and fired on a border post, apparently after mistaking warning shots for hostile fire from insurgents.

“We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured,” Patterson said in a statement. “Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the U.S.”

The U.S. commander of Western troops in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, expressed regret and pledged to work with the Pakistani military and government “to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” Quite a shift from the ‘do more’ mantra of the recent past and justifying border raids as ‘necessary’.

Despite the apologetic comments from various US and NATO officials, the border crossings remain closed on Thursday October 7th, and quite rightly so. When the US can sentence a Pakistani woman for 86 years for allegedly pointing a gun at US soldiers, the least Pakistan needs to do is to demand the US hands over the rogue political and military leadership of US and NATO, as well as the pilots who pulled the trigger killing Pakistani border guards last week. These personnel should be tried in Pakistan and sentenced accordingly.

Pakistan also needs to demand a complete halt to the drone attacks and permanently close the supply lines to secure itself, in addition to forcing the US and NATO onto the negotiating table with Afghan Taliban and as a result, limiting India’s involvement in Afghan affairs. Indians do not speak the language, share a border, or have any real excuse to be in Afghanistan other than to continue their covert support of terrorists wreaking havoc on our side of the border.

With around 80% of the NATO and US supplies requiring passage through Pakistani territory (amounting to around 600 trucks a day), Pakistan holds the trump card in the Af-Pak theatre, and from recent evidence General Kiyani’s poker face hides more than it shows.

Pakistan’s yay or nay will decide the future of this conflict and the region. Kiyani needs to ‘do more’ of the same.

Dan Qayyum is the editor of the online news-service PKKH.tv and an Analyst for Af-Pak and South Asian affairs for Karachi based defence journal ‘Fortress‘.

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One comment

  1. Celebration of you Pakistanis that 80% NATO supply goes through Pakistan, hence Kiyani’s trump card, is premature.

    You Pakistanis have actually initiated the next phase of the war, when eventually 100% of NATO supplies will by-pass Pakistan.

    The consequences for Pakistan and Kiyani ……. ?



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