Refocus on Salala Attack
By Sajjad Shaukat
On 26th of November 2011, the US-led NATO forces attacked two Pakistani check-posts on Pak-Afghan border and martyred 24 Pakistani military personnel indiscriminately.
In this regard, two American Apache helicopters and two F-15 Eagle fighter jets targeted the two Pakistani posts, Boulder and Volcano, situated at Salala in the Baizai tehsil of Mohmand Agency. The airstrike was carried out in two phases.
Notably, the aerial attack was coordinated and deliberate, its second phase carried out by American forces after the Pakistan Army informed the ISAF command 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 blocked the NATO ground lines of communication to Afghanistan and demanded an apology before the supply line would be unblocked.
Pakistan’s parliament unanimously 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. Besides, Pakistan should seek an unconditional apology from the US for November 26, 2011 unprovoked Salala check-posts assault.
Meanwhile, a number of American diplomats including NATO chief had visited Islamabad and met the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and 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.”
Meanwhile, 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 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 stated that negotiations on restoration of the NATO supply is progressing in the right direction, but Pakistan would not accept any pre-condition.
In these terms, Pak-US war of nerves 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.
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.
Since May 2, 2011, Pak-US relations further deteriorated when without informing Islamabad, US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in a covert military operation. Afterwards, tension intensified, as America continued its duress on Pakistan in wake of drone attacks on FATA, while brushing aside parliament’s resolution in this respect.
Differences 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 accelerated tension between Islamabad and Washington.
Some American top officials 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 after the withdrawal of foreign troops, 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.
Nonetheless, after the Salala incident, Pak-US war of nerves continued, 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 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 by American air strike on Slalala check posts by saying “sorry”.
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