Pakistan, Considering Suspension of NATO Supply to Afghanistan
Pakistan’s National Assembly (Lower house of parliament) has unanimously passed a resolution on August 30, this year, calling on the government to consider suspending supply lines to the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan in response to the recent US accusations that the country is harbouring militant groups.
In his speech on August 21, 2017, while announcing the US new strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia, American President Donald Trump, particularly, singled out Pakistan for criticism.
Using tough words against the US ally Pakistan, Trump revived the old blame game of his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama regarding the cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan by saying Washington could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations”, and threatened to target the terrorists’ sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Trump stated, “We have been paying Pakistan billions of dollars, at the same time, they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting…that must change immediately.”
As regards Pakistan’s regional rival India, Donald Trump added, “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan…We want them to help us more with Afghanistan.”
He did not provide a number of additional troops which will be sent to the war, though US officials said ahead of the speech that they expect him to go along with a Pentagon recommendation for nearly 4,000 new troops.
By following Trump’s remarks against Islamabad, a day later, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that Washington “would consider cutting aid to Pakistan, increasing the use of drone attacks within its territory…We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region.”
On August 26, this year, John Nicholson, the US military commander in Afghanistan, who has repeatedly admired Pakistan’s armed forces owing to their successes achieved against terrorism, set aside his previous statements and allegedly said that Afghan Taliban leaders and the Haqqani Network were being given sanctuary in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar.
However, taking cognizance of America’s blame game, Islamabad denied that it offers sanctuary to any armed groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and the government and military have rejected Trump’s strategy.
The resolution of the National Assembly urged the government to review all cooperation with the United States. It also called on the government to consider the postponement of any visits by US delegations to Pakistan or by Pakistani delegations/officials to the USA and to formulate economic policies to deal with any situation arising out of the absence of US financial assistance.
On August 27, 2017, Pakistan postponed a planned trip to Islamabad by Alice Wells, the acting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A planned trip by Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif to the US has also been put on hold.
Meanwhile, Pakistani diplomats have been holding a flurry of meetings with regional allies, mainly China to shore up support for the country’s position that it has been fighting the Taliban and does not offer sanctuary to any militant outfits.
Notably, on August 22, 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed Beijing’s support to Pakistan during a meeting with Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua hours after the US President Trump criticized Pakistan for allegedly offering safe havens to agents of chaos in South Asia. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying asserted that Pakistan was on the front line in the struggle against terrorism and had made great sacrifices and important contributions in the fight. Chunying called on the international community to recognise Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism.
Besides China, on August 24, this year, Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov slammed Trump’s Pakistan strategy and insisted that Islamabad is “a key regional player to negotiate with.” He explained, “Putting pressure [on Pakistan] may seriously destabilise the region-wide security situation and result in negative consequences for Afghanistan.”
On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, while rejecting the US new strategy in Afghanistan, stated, “Russia has expressed regret that the main focus of the new [Afghanistan] strategy announced by Washington is regulation by methods of force…We are certain this is a futile course.” He also rejected American’s allegations that Moscow was supplying arms to the Taliban.
While condemning Trump’s remarks about Pakistan, even Iranian Foreign Minister Spokesman Bahran Ghasemi stated on August 24, 2017, “What presently the US is highlighting to condemn other countries which is the result of years of wrong and inappropriate policies of Americans in the countries of the region…especially American opportunistic strategies, unilateral policies, and unacceptable interference have resulted in increasing chaos and tension and growing terrorism and extremism in the region.”
Earlier, before tabling the resolution, politicians of the ruling party and leaders of the opposition parties strongly rejected America’s accusations against Pakistan.
Speaking in the National Assembly, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior politician and Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah took serious notice of Trump’s new policy statement. He proposed calling a Joint Session of Parliament after Eid so a strong response can be given to the US policy.
Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar and politician of the ruling party said that the issue of US continued criticism on Pakistan will not stop by mere resolutions and condemnations and needs a major overhaul of the entire narrative towards the US. Nisar stated, “US policy in the region has failed miserably…Pakistan is not responsible for its failures…US did not ask Pakistan before going to Afghanistan…US has held talks with the Taliban in the region, but all hell breaks loose when Pakistan wants to do the same.”
Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) senior leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi who also served as the foreign minister of the country, said, “He has not seen the unity he is witnessing today in the National Assembly…As foreign minister I know how difficult it was to get reimbursements under the Coalition Support Fund from the US…Trump’s own earlier statements contradict his present positions on the issue…The US government’s taking on board of New Delhi to get to Afghanistan a red line…I ask Trump do you not see the safe havens in eastern Afghanistan…Trump who scuttled Pakistan’s efforts to ensure better border management with Afghanistan…The international community has forgotten the Afghan refugees in Pakistan…how much is the US assisting in aiding those refugees.”
Another leader of the PTI, Shireen Mazari speaking in the session attacked Europe and US, saying, “They themselves are providing safe havens to extremist elements in their territories and Pakistan should not ignore this.”
It is notable that on 26th of November 2011, two American Apache helicopters and two F-15 Eagle fighter jets targeted the two Pakistani posts, situated on Pak-Afghan border at Salala in the Mohmand Agency and martyred 24 Pakistani military personnel indiscriminately.
That aerial attack was coordinated and deliberate, its second phase carried out by American forces after the Pakistan Army informed the International Security Force (ISAF) command in Afghanistan that their forces were attacking Pakistani troops–and despite this information, it continued.
In this context, a NATO inquiry said that both sides had made mistakes. Pakistan categorically rejected the inquiry report. It had earlier refused to be part of a joint inquiry. Top Pakistan Army officials denied the attack was unintentional.
Reacting to the Salala attack, Pakistan had blocked the NATO ground lines of communication to Afghanistan and demanded an apology from the US before the supply line would be unblocked.
Pakistan’s parliament unanimously had approved recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) in connection with the re-engagement with the United States. Besides other matters, the recommendations included an immediate cessation of drone attacks and infiltration into Pakistani territory, entailing some conditions regarding supply to NATO forces in Afghanistan across the country.
Meanwhile, a number of American diplomats including NATO chief had visited Islamabad and met the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the then Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, asking them for re-opening the NATO routes. Setting aside the American pressure, they reiterated that parliament in light of the PCNS recommendations and the Defence Committee of Cabinet would decide on the issue of NATO supply, after negotiating new relationship with the US, based upon equality and non-violation of Pakistani territory.
When Pakistan government remained stern on its stand by keeping the NATO supply lines suspended for the six months in wake of US pressure tactics, on May 10, 2012, the United States House Armed Services Committee approved a bill that would prohibit the preferential procurement of goods or services from Pakistan until the “NATO supply lines are reopened.”
In the meantime, the then NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested on May 11, 2012 that Pakistan could miss out on important talks on the future of Afghanistan, if it failed to reopen supply routes in time to secure a place at a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21, 2012. Indirectly, he disclosed that Pakistan would not be invited to participate in the summit.
On the other side, Prime Minister Gilani had confirmed that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet would debate as to how to repair relations with America in time to attend the NATO summit in Chicago or to boycott it. While, the British Defence Minister Phillip Hamond had stated that negotiations on restoration of the NATO supply were progressing in the right direction, but Pakistan would not accept any pre-condition.
In these terms, Pak-US war of nerves had accelerated due to American coercive diplomacy towards Islamabad coupled with its double game. In this regard, after the 9/11 tragedy, Pakistan joined the US war against terrorism as frontline state and Islamabad was granted the status of non-NATO ally by Washington because of its earlier successes achieved by Pakistan’s Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against the Al-Qaeda militants.
Within a few years, when the US-led NATO forces felt that they were failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, they started false allegations against Pak Army and ISI of supporting the Afghan Taliban. US high officials and their media not only blamed Pakistan for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan, but also continuously emphasized to ‘do more’ against the insurgents in tribal areas by ignoring the internal backlash in the country such as bomb blasts and suicide attacks which killed thousands of innocent people and personnel of the security forces.
Cold war had already started between Pakistan and the United States when hundreds of CIA agents entered Pakistan under the guise of diplomats to destabilize the country. On January 11, 2011, Raymond Davis who was CIA agent killed two Pakistanis in Lahore.
Differences had also increased between Islamabad and Washington, because Pakistan’s superior agency, ISI interrupted covert activities of the American so-called diplomats. Notably, ISI thwarted the anti-Pakistan activities of the agents of Blackwater and CIA which had started recruiting Pakistani nationals who were vulnerable. In this connection, with the pre-information of ISI, Pakistan’s police and other security agencies arrested a number of secret agents. On many occasions, ISI helped in stopping the clandestine activities of the CIA spies who were displaying themselves as diplomats. On the information of this top spy agency, Pakistan’s establishment expelled several American spies operating in the country. On the other side, US withheld $800 million in military aid to punish its army and ISI.
It was due to the professional competence of ISI in foiling the anti-Pakistan plot that US and India including their media accelerated deliberate propaganda against ISI.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the November 26 incident in Mohmand Agency, Pakistan’s bold steps such as vacation of the Shamsi Airbase, boycott the second Bonn Conference and rejection of the US investigation report regarding the deliberate attack on Salala Army check-posts intensified tension between Islamabad and Washington.
Some American top officials had accused Pakistan-based Haqqani militants behind the well-coordinated attacks in Afghanistan, which occurred on April 15, 2012. US aim was to pressurize Islamabad for restoration of the NATO transit routes.
It is mentionable that confused in their goals, sometimes US high officials praised Pak sacrifices regarding war on terror, sometimes, admitted that stability cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan, sometimes, threatened Islamabad to abandon the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project and sometimes, realized that US wants to improve its relationship with Pakistan, but at the same time, they blame Islamabad for safe-havens of militants in the country. While in connivance with India and Israel, America has been continuing its anti-Pakistan activities by supporting militancy in Pakistan and separatism in Balochistan province.
Nonetheless, after the Salala incident, Pak-US war of nerves continued, and it took the relationship of both the countries to the point of no return. On July 3, 2012, Defence Committee of the Cabinet permitted NATO supplies across the country to Afghanistan after the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 by American air strike on Slalala check posts by saying “sorry”.
Now, the same situation has developed between Islamabad and Washington in the aftermath of Trump’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric.
US President Donald Trump’s revised policy towards Afghan war and allegations against Pakistan prompted strong reactions from Pakistani analysts, politicians and leaders of all the parties.
In this regard, Pakistan’s renowned analyst on the affairs of tribal areas and Afghanistan, Rahimullah Yusufzai opined, “the United State’s new Afghan policy is “equivalent to a threat to Pakistan…frequent statements from the US stating that Pakistan is home to terrorists is a clear message…India will play a bigger role in Afghanistan.”
Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan stated on August 22 and 23, 2017, “Just as India blames Pakistan for the indigenous Kashmiri uprisings when these are a result of its own failed policy of repression in the Indian Occupied Kashmir…So the US again blames Pakistan for its deeply flawed and failed Afghan policy stretching over a decade…We must also reject being made scapegoats for the policy failures of the US and India…the new US policy is aimed at de-nuclearising Pakistan…India’s major role in Afghanistan as per Trump administration’s new strategy for the region will have adverse impacts on Pakistan…Trump had threatened Pakistan in open words and undermined the country’s major contributions towards that war. It seems Trump has no knowledge of this region. He does not know the dynamics of over a decade-old war the US has been fighting in Afghanistan…The Trump’s new strategy will further weaken the US government and its economy…If you want peace in Afghanistan, you need Pakistan. More troops and money will not serve the purpose.”
According to the statement of Inter Services Publication Directorate (ISPR) issued on August 23, 2017, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that Pakistan was not looking for any material or financial assistance from USA but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions…peace in Afghanistan is as important for Pakistan as for any other country. This he said, while speaking to American Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale who called on Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) at GHQ (Army headquarter) in Rawalpindi.”
Pakistan’s top political and military leaders on August 24, 2017 offered a stark response to Trump’s false accusations in the meeting of the National Security Committee, telling him that scapegoating Pakistan will not bring about peace in Afghanistan. The civil and military officials demanded that the US military should eliminate militants who use Afghan soil to stage attacks in Pakistan. It also called for recognition by the Trump administration of Pakistan’s many sacrifices—thousands of civilians and security forces have lost their lives in the country’s fight against insurgency and militancy on its own soil. The war on terror has also cost this Islamic nation $120 billion in economic losses. The committee reiterated Pakistan’s commitment that it will not allow its soil to be used for violence against any other country—“We expect the same from our neighbors”, it said in a reference to Afghanistan and India.
The committee pointed out that Trump’s claims of giving billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan were “misleading…that the reimbursements to Pakistan since 2001 only account for part of the cost of ground facilities and air corridors used by the United States for its operations in Afghanistan, rather than any financial aid or assistance.” The meeting pledged to continue helping international community to ensure peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said, “Terrorist sanctuaries are present in East Afghanistan. It is from these safe havens inside Afghanistan that terrorist attacks are being launched on Pakistan.”
Besides, after the threat of Trump, protest-marches and rallies have started in Pakistan against America. Police fired tear gas shells on the protesters on August 27, this year in Karachi when they were trying to reach the US Consulate. In some other cities, including Islamabad, thousands of people protested against the US, chanting slogans against Trump and America.
Unlike the past, much resentment can be witnessed in Pakistan against the US, under Trump administration. Taking note of America’s double game, Pakistan’s government is seriously considering suspension of NATO supply to Afghanistan.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations