In order to avert the risk of its international isolation, Pakistan has agreed to reopen the ground lanes of communication (GLOC), critically vital to the logistic support of NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan. These forces are apparently engaged in war on terror but the menace of terrorism has been strengthened many times over since October 2001 when the US decided to attack Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban regime which was accused of providing sanctuaries to al-Qaeda. It has now been established through hindsight that it was al-Qaeda which attacked the US on 9/11 in order to pull the sole super power into Afghanistan, a graveyard of many Empires.
The US and its allies have lost the war as they have failed to achieve the stated objective of bringing peace in Afghanistan. The US misadventure in Afghanistan has not only threatened the peace and security of countries in this region including Afghanistan, Central Asian states, China, Pakistan and India but it has also endangered the security of US and its allies. Al-Qaeda is now a formidable force operating from many bases around the globe. The US dream of defeating al-Qaeda has been totally frustrated. The West has lost in Afghanistan like the British. Its bruised ego demands that it should leave like a victor to justify hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and, if that is not possible, it should find a scapegoat and pass on the buck. Pakistan was a convenient scapegoat but it proved itself otherwise during a long standoff after the Salala incident. The US had to blink first leading to reopening of GLOC by Pakistan.
The US had applied all the tactics, many of those clearly dirty and blackmailing like raising the issue of Balochistan, in order to pressure Pakistan into submission. This country, which is now subsisting on international hand-outs, successfully held its ground on principles and resisted all sorts of arm-twisting pressure.
Let us look at recent developments and Critical Threats in the run-up to reopening of GLOC.
There was behind the scene consultations. Pakistani’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides met in Islamabad last week to discuss reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. According to a Foreign Office spokesman, the meeting led to significant progress, though no final decision was reached. At the meeting, the U.S. delegation also assured Pakistan that the U.S. would distribute the first $400 million dollar installment of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) within a week’s period. Sources said that the technical and monetary issues related to reopening the supply lines have been resolved and though a U.S. apology over the Salala border incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November may come forth this week, it will most likely not come from “the highest ranks.” Other sources claim that a U.S. team comprised of senior members of the White House National Security staff has brought a draft proposal to Islamabad that “meets Pakistan’s demand for an apology without embarrassing” the Obama administration. Although the U.S. Department of Defense remains opposed to the proposed apology, official sources claim that the U.S. State Department is strongly supporting the proposal to accept Pakistan’s demand for an apology.
Speaking jointly with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Islamabad and Washington are continuing discussions over reopening the Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs) and that the two countries should work together to confront a common enemy in the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP). In reference to negotiations over reopening the NATO supply routes, Panetta noted that “there are still some tough issues to resolve.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed similar sentiments when she talked to Pakistani Prime Minister via telephone on Sunday, saying that the two countries should work together to defeat “the common enemy.”
A Pentagon budget document called the omnibus reprogramming request sent to U.S. Congress on Friday revealed that continued closure of Pakistan’s NATO supply route is costing the Department of Defense more than $2.1 billion in extra transportation costs. In the document, the Army requested $1.7 billion from Congress for “shortfalls that resulted from increased fuel costs and continued closure of the Pakistan [GLOC]” while the Air Force asked for $369.2 million partially due to the closure of the Pakistan [GLOC].” NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen, on Monday, expressed hope that Pakistan would soon reopen the NATO supply route. Rasmussen emphasized the importance of the NATO-Pakistan relationship in light of the expected drawdown in the military campaign in Afghanistan by 2014.
In the meantime, drone strikes continued to target the terrorists. Some of the militants targeted were foreign fighters belonging to the Turkmenistan Islamic Movement.
Afghanistan-Pakistan relations continued deteriorating due to Salala-like incidents and anti-Pakistan Taliban strikes against Pakistani border posts. Afghanistan threatened to report Pakistan to the UN Security Council over what Afghan authorities allege was “Pakistani rocket shelling” of the eastern province of Kunar in recent weeks. According to an official speaking to AFP, rockets have displaced thousands of villagers from Kunar as Pakistani security forces retaliate against Taliban militants responsible for cross-border attacks. Foreign Ministry spokesman Faramarz Tamana said Afghanistan “will refer this issue to the United Nations Security Council,” if bilateral talks between President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf fail to produce any conclusions.
Pakistani officials claim that 60 Afghan soldiers crossed into Pakistan on Monday, sparking clashes in Upper Kurram agency that resulted in the death of two tribesmen and the injury of another, according to a senior official speaking to AFP on the condition of anonymity. Local residents added that Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers pursued attackers fleeing Shehar-e-Nau village in Pakitia province. Spokesman for army corps 203 in southeastern Afghanistan Colonel Ahmad Jan, however, denied the allegations, claiming that ANA forces had “not entered Pakistan.” Pakistan plans to issue a formal protest against Afghanistan in response to the incursion.
On last Sunday, hundreds of militants reportedly gathered in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar, dozens of whom crossed into Sabir Killey village, in Upper Dir’s Soni Darr area, in an ambush on a Pakistani security forces check post. In the ensuing firefight, six militants were killed. Pakistani intelligence officials stated the militants belonged to Pakistani cleric Mullah Fazlullah’s faction of the Pakistani Taliban. Meanwhile, Taliban commander Mullah Mansoor was killed on Sunday following clashes between militants and security forces in the Dir Bala area of Dir. According to local sources, 34 militants were killed during the three days of fighting in the area.
In the backdrop of these developments, was Islamabad becoming increasingly desperate to find a way out of this crisis created by closing down of GLOCs? In view of some analysts, it would have been a disaster for Pakistan had the US, which is a big financer, and international monitory institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, refused to bail out its already frail economy." Both countries realized that they were gaining nothing from the deadlock and they had to go forward. Both countries had calmed down by now and they felt they had to get back to business. When the Pakistanis were too angry in November last year, the US had agreed to tender an apology, but the decision was halted on Pakistan's own claim that the parliament was reviewing relations with the US. Observers believe Islamabad's decision to resume NATO supplies will help ease its tensions with the US.
By perpetuating the crisis, Pakistan was risking international isolation and its due role in the future of Afghanistan. It, therefore, had to convince the US that its interests in Afghanistan should not be put at stake for the benefit of India and other regional players. By averting the risk of isolation, Pakistan is still exposed to the risk of backlash from Islamists. These Islamists are necessarily the Taliban of its supporters. It is the traditional ghairat brigade and right-wing political forces. The reopening of NATO supply routes remains an unpopular decision in Pakistan. The government faced immense political pressure from opposition parties, including hard-line Islamist groups. Observers say that despite the fact that the resumption of supplies will improve US-Pakistani relations; the PPP government is going to face a severe backlash from the Islamist parties. Pakistani militants opposed to the resumption of supplies - which includes the Taliban - have warned they will carry out attacks on NATO supply trucks.
But resumption of supply routes without a formal apology indicates Islamabad’s desperation to end the crisis. In a carefully worded statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was sorry for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO airstrike on the Afghan border last November. She slipped in an apology too on Pakistan’s behalf saying that, “We are both sorry for losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists.” And she announced that NATO supply routes, closed since last November, would be reopened.
As it stands, at best the two countries have agreed a truce which opens the political space for them to work together to try to end the war in Afghanistan. According to Reuters it is a missed opportunity for the United States to redefine its relationship with Pakistan, returning instead to a toxic mutual dependency which allows both countries to blame the other for their failings. How close they manage to steer to either the former or latter outcome – and the real risk is that they continue to muddle along in the middle – will become clear only when the full details of their negotiations emerge. But there are some fairly obvious signs to watch for. There is increased anti-Americanism fuelled by right-wing forces, the Haqqani factor and continued drone strikes. Pakistan has to safeguard its own national security interests.
Underneath what Washington sees as near-suicidal reluctance by the Pakistani military to turn against Islamist insurgents lies legitimate security interests. The colonial-era Durand Line which marks the border with Afghanistan has never been recognized by Kabul, leaving Pakistan vulnerable to the idea of a revived Pashtunistan incorporating the Pashtun people of southern Afghanistan and those living on the Pakistani side as far as the Indus river. Pakistan and Afghanistan are never going to have settled relations until that border issue is addressed in some way (tensions on the border have been flaring up again, aggravated by accusations from both Afghanistan and Pakistan of militant sanctuaries on either side.) Will the United States be willing to nudge the Afghans into talks that, while unlikely to reach a settlement for years (Afghanistan is fiercely opposed to recognizing the Durand Line as the border) would at least indicate a readiness to address one of the root causes of conflict?
To enhance Pakistan’s skepticism, Washington has actively welcomed Indian participation in developing Afghanistan; Pakistan opposes any Indian military involvement and only reluctantly has accepted economic support. Have red lines on Indian involvement in Afghanistan been agreed between the United States, Pakistan and India? Apparently, there is no such agreement. If its past record is any evidence of its future dealings with Pakistan, Pakistanis have no reason to rely on the US. If the United States has achieved the feat of being disliked by almost all sections of Pakistani society, it is partly because its past policies proved so damaging to Pakistan, particularly its support for India. Its approach to Pakistan has been one of using it for its own strategic ends whether these be challenging the Soviet Union during the Cold War or fighting the war in Afghanistan. That has been changing slowly – over the last few years Washington has begun to acknowledge its real challenge was in stabilizing not Afghanistan but Pakistan. With that has come tentative support for democracy – a country being used purely for U.S. foreign policy ends is “more conveniently” run by a general; a country in need of internal stabilization is more likely to be balanced through democracy. How far will Washington continue to support Pakistan’s chaotic nascent democracy, or alternatively how far will it fall back on the old habits of military-to-military cooperation?
The lessons learnt from the seven-month long stand-off are very clear. The major lesson is that it is not possible even for a super power, to browbeat Pakistan notwithstanding its fragile economy, tainted leadership, political and ethnic polarization and fragmented social order. Pakistan has a strong judiciary and a well-motivated defense machine and these institutions are a sufficient pre-requisite for country’s survival. Pakistan has conducted itself in a most responsible manner and played its role in the efforts to bring peace in the region. Despite all the dirty tactics employed by the US, including attacks on Pakistani border posts from Afghanistan, Pakistan did not disappoint the world community.