Disturbed situation on western front

By Asif Haroon Raja

Despite anti-American sentiments running high among people in Pakistan as a consequent to anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic policies of USA, relations between Pakistan and USA at government level remained cordial. Cordiality turned into acrimony in 2011 as a result of Raymond Davis episode in January followed by shocking 2 May incident, outburst of Mike Mullen in September and murderous NATO attack on 26 November. These gory incidents changed the dynamics of relationship which otherwise were never on even keel and were fraught with element of distrust. Washington has showed least concern over huge human and economic losses suffered by Pakistan in fighting war on terror, or its genuine security concerns and has kept up with its ‘do more’ mantra and nasty propaganda campaign against Army/ISI.

2011 proved to be turning point since it has brought a dramatic change in the behaviour pattern of our military and civilian leaders who have all along believed in the policy of appeasement irrespective of Washington’s overbearing attitude and discriminatory policy. Ten years of subservience has made the US leaders so arrogant that they take Pakistan for granted. They believe that no amount of bullying and snubs would offend aid hungry Pak leaders. They are not reconciling to the new face of defiance put up by Pakistan at a time when Pakistan’s economy is in dire strait and political and security situation is dismal. They have tried their old tricks of threats and aid cut/freeze, but are surprised to find the other side unmoved.

For too long Pakistan has suffered quietly and in return earned nothing but crumbs, derision and stabs in the back. The US has been treating Pakistan more as a foe and less as an ally and has all along been using Pakistan to serve its selfish interests. It has remained heavily tilted towards India in its urge to make it a bulwark against China and has completely ignored Pakistan’s security interests as well as its sacrifices which are much more than any other country. 100,000 dead and injured in fighting US war on terror are too staggering a number.

This radical change has not only occurred for the first time since early 1950s, but has also come at a time when the US is caught up in far too many difficulties. The US badly needs Pakistan’s support to be able to terminate the endgame in Afghanistan on a respectable note and pullout. For all practical purposes the US has lost the war and ISAF has given up hopes of a victory. It would welcome a safe and honourable exit. Its desire to leave behind a back up force seems wishful since the main stakeholders Taliban who are in the driving seat would never agree to this proposal. Karzai is a spent cartridge and will survive as long as ISAF is there and American aid is flowing in. Afghan security forces that are being excessively expanded would also fragment once American funding and ISAF backup support ceases.

On the political front, so far no meaningful breakthrough has been achieved. US-Taliban talks at Doha are at the moment nothing more than a confidence building exercise. Although the US has come down from the high pedestal and instead of re-integration of Taliban fighters, it now seeks reconciliation, it will have to give ironclad guarantees of ISAF’s exit by an appointed date to make the Taliban come to the negotiating table and work out a political settlement. The only country that has some clout over the hard line Taliban is Pakistan. That is why the US is putting up with Pakistan’s defiance and non-cooperation.

Closure of vital supply routes by Pakistan since 27 November is causing maximum trouble to ISAF. Northern routes are not only time consuming but are also very costly. It costs over $12000 per container and is costing NATO an additional $87 million per month. Air supply is very expensive since one gallon of fuel costs $450. Pakistan has not been levying transit fee on NATO containers since October 2001. Apart from free passage the heavy containers have ruined the roads from Karachi to Peshawar-Torkham and from Karachi to Quetta-Chaman. It was as consequence to closure of the two supply routes that story of use of pampers by ISAF troops came to light. Shortage of this item is direly felt. These containers were also meeting the needs of foreign paid terrorist groups in Pakistan and militant wings of political parties in Karachi. 34000 containers had gone missing and so far the culprits have not been taken to task.

Daily flow of containers and oil tankers passing through Pakistan has been 1000 and 1500 respectively. Three million containers/tankers passed through Pakistan in last ten years without payment. Had each container/tanker been charged $10,000, Pakistan would have earned $30 billion. In the new rules of engagement chalked out by Pakistan, it has probably been decided to levy $1000 charges per NATO container, which means a paltry amount of $4 million a month.

It has come to my knowledge that besides air supply, ground supplies are still trickling into Afghanistan unofficially. This can be gauged from the fact that had the supplies been completely blocked, the main highway roads would have got clogged by now right from Torkham backwards up to Pindi and beyond and from Chaman up to Quetta; and Karachi Port would certainly have got choked. Reportedly, 5000 containers and large number of military vehicles are presently stuck. Smugglers, Khasadars/levies employed on two crossing points as well as Karachi Port officials are involved in allowing 5-10 containers to cross the border daily. This can be ascertained from the fact that large numbers of containers have gone missing from Karachi Port in the last two months. Missing containers have a share for local terrorists as well. Had the flow been completely blocked, the situation of ISAF by now would have become precarious and the behaviour of US officials would have got transformed from rudeness to politeness.

New terms of re-engagement with USA have been announced by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. While most of the recommendations seem proper, however, reopening NATO supply line subject to an apology from USA over Salala attack and levying of nominal transit charges needs reconsideration. I hazard to suggest impounding 5000 NATO containers laden with sophisticated armaments as well as 3000 NATO APCs and vehicles as compensation to recover the ten-year cost and damage to road infrastructure. These armaments and vehicles can be profitably used by the Army to establish an effective counter terror force, or else raise 1-2 additional mountain divisions and establish western command to meet the future threat from the west. We should preferably stop fighting war on terror or as a minimum make it conditional to stopping drone war

After 26 November, the ISI is not sharing intelligence with CIA. Closure of Shamsi airbase is also a setback for CIA to carryout drone war and covert war in Balochistan. It took CIA two months to renew drone strikes but at a very low scale. In the wake of resolutions passed by joint sessions of the parliament concerning drones, it will be in fitness of things to shoot down intruding drones. Although the PAF has been supporting Army’s operations against terrorists in far flung inaccessible areas, it has yet to show something worthwhile to the nation. People are not happy with PAF’s lack of action on 2 May and on 26 November and want continued violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US to be checkmated. They expect the new Air Chief Marshal equipped with Parliament’s resolution and backed by 180 million people to give a befitting reply to the US aggressiveness and gladden the hearts of the nation. If Iran can bring down American drone, why can’t nuclear Pakistan do it?

The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance columnist. Email:asifharoon7751@yahoo.com

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