Pakistan rebuffs attempts by shutting down military supply route for US/NATO forces

This strained relations between the Pentagon and the Pakistan Army. Reportedly, the crisis in US-Pakistan relations and the supply chain trauma that ISAF had to face on account of route closure led to Jones’s departure ahead of his planned retirement later this year. Gareth Porter, writing for Inter Press Service, reports that “President Obama has clearly abandoned the tough line toward Pakistan represented by cross-border helicopter attacks and accelerated drone strikes in an effort to reduce tensions.”

In pushing his unilateral escalation of force, General Petraeus allowed the element of distrust to creep back into US-Pakistan relations that President Obama has been taking pains to remove after a long period of strained relations.

NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen was the first to regret the incident, pleading that the killing of three Pakistani soldiers was unintended. They initially dragged their feet, but later, under a White House directive, the US Ambassador in Islamabad, Ms. Anne Peterson, and ISAF Commander, General David Petraeus, made public apologies. This was followed by a letter from Admiral Mike Mullen to Pakistan’s army chief General Kayani expressing his deep regrets over the incident.

By closing the border crossing, Pakistan established a powerful leverage over Washington and US/NATO command, one it can use in the future to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty, stop cross-border raids, and curtail drone attacks.

By forcing Washington to back off, Pakistan conveyed several clear messages. Pakistan is no Afghanistan and could not be taken for granted; its sovereignty and its national boundaries must be respected; its patience also has limits despite its close alliance with the US; and carrying the war into this country of 175 million people would, after all, not be a piece of cake. It also carried the reminder that Pakistan’s assistance remained a key element in ISAF’s operations in Afghanistan and is dependent upon respect for its sensitivities.

Although the US/NATO command pretends that alternate supply routes via Central Asian countries could be used, the fact is that this will involve massive airlifts and time delays and has not been found very viable.

This episode also made clear that the term Af-Pak coined by the Americans was a misnomer and should not be misinterpreted to mean that Afghanistan and Pakistan can be lumped together by ISAF for operational purposes. Pakistan is a separate entity, a sovereign country, which jealously guards it geographical boundaries. The mandate that ISAF was given for Afghanistan neither applied to Pakistan nor could be extended to it.

The resulting scenario might even influence the Obama administration’s thinking towards the war in another way. US officials have concluded that the war will remain unwinnable unless Pakistan changes its policy towards suspected Taliban sanctuaries in FATA. But if Pakistan refuses to change its policy and persists with a firm stand like the one it took recently, and if this forces Washington to back off like it did now, this might strengthen President Obama’s hand in insisting on a drawdown of troops to begin in July 2011.

There are widespread concerns about a spiraling rise in CIA drone strikes in Waziristan that are inflicting heavy casualties. For several years, CIA drones have attacked targets within FATA that were labeled as insurgent sanctuaries. While the US calls every one killed a terrorist, the fact is that numerous innocent men, women, and children have lost their lives or have been injured and maimed. The seething tribesmen who suffer these losses become Taliban sympathizers, some even joining their ranks. In the end, the backlash translates into growing militancy in Pakistan.

The US has no legal mandate for drone attacks within the borders of another sovereign country, and they amount to state terrorism that is in grave violation of human rights and of international law. The Zardari government remains completely unresponsive. A former chief of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, has demanded of the Pakistan Air Force to shoot down US drones — sentiments that are widely shared by the people and the rank and file of the armed forces.

Word has been leaked by the Zardari government that it follows an agreement between the former regime of President Musharraf and the US administration in allowing these attacks. Being an extremely important issue of public interest, this agreement, if there is one, must be released to the public.

The government is bound by the Constitution to protect the life, liberty and property of its citizens and is therefore under obligation to revoke this unlawful agreement, unilaterally if necessary, as it illegally allows a foreign government to slaughter non-combatant Pakistani citizens on mere suspicion of being terrorists, without apportioning blame or giving them a fair trial.

And if the Zardari government deliberately turns a blind eye to the killings of its citizens by a foreign power in exchange for the $2 billion in US aid annually and tens of millions of dollars in “black” payments it receives from CIA, it becomes an accomplice in the extra judicial killings of its citizens and must be held accountable.