THE unprovoked attack on two Pakistani Army check posts in Salala, Mohmand Agency by multiple Nato aircraft and ground troops on Nov 26, is likely to prove one of the lowest points in deteriorating US-Pakistan relations.
The incident has occurred at a time when a heated debate is under way in Pakistan regarding the contents of a memo sent to Adm Mike Mullen that many believe was another attempt to limit the role of the Pakistani military in politics.
There are reports that the attack occurred when the US Special Operation Forces were operating in the vicinity of the posts.
Could it be that this was the first combined operation against Pakistani forces?
President Obama has called the attack a tragedy. Nato has offered regrets for the incident and ordered an inquiry. Pakistan in retaliation has stopped the transit of material to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also asked for Shamsi airbase, on lease to the US and from where the drones are reportedly operated, to be vacated.At the same time, Pakistan has asked the US not to send any military delegations, and a similar embargo applies to Pakistani military visits to Nato countries.
The net result is the downgrading of US-Pakistan relations. It can be said that the Nato attack on the Salala post in Mohmand Agency perhaps spells the end of Pakistan’s participation as an ally of the US in the war on terror. This will severely limit US/Nato ability to conclude a clean withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Another important aspect related to Afghanistan is Pakistan’s decision not to attend the forthcoming Bonn Conference; without Pakistan’s participation the Afghan endgame cannot be concluded.
It is possible that the Mohmand incident may force the US to continue its presence in Afghanistan into the foreseeable future.
In short, the Nato attack may turn out to be the costliest mistake yet in the Afghan war. It is speculated by many that Pakistan will consider increasing its deterrence capability after this episode to protect its border posts by providing shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles to its troops stationed there.
Failure to do so will increase dissatisfaction amongst the Pakistani troops guarding the border. The provision of missiles will transform the whole calculus of forces deployed on the Durand Line.
Secondly, Pakistani force commanders will now be less than enthusiastic about cross-border raids. This could lead to further complications. If Taliban attacks increase, Nato will be hard-pressed to protect its mandate. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Nato envoy, has said that Russia might suspend the northern supply line that will threaten western operations in Afghanistan.
The Nato position thus appears untenable as the 2014 deadline for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan draws near. Nato thus may have to brace itself to face new challenges in the days ahead.
One thing is certain — the Nato establishment in Afghanistan will see more militant attacks in the future as Pakistan begins to lose interest in border management.
It is unlikely that Pakistan will conduct independent reprisals against US interests as it has much more to lose. However, it can undertake soft actions by recalling the privileges that have been extended to Isaf/Nato/US forces in the form of provision of supply routes through Pakistan, joint monitoring of borders, exchange of information and closing down of the Shamsi drone base.
Pakistan is also likely to stop joint cooperation with Nato in Afghanistan and the former will be left holding the hammer without an anvil.
Although Nato has expressed regrets, this will not lead to improvement of relations if the current atmosphere of distrust continues to prevail. Some of the steps that could be taken to defuse the situation will include the restitution of losses suffered by bereaved families and the submission of a formal apology.
However, one wonders if this will be done in today’s world where the rule of law and equity in behaviour are rarely seen.
Travelling on this path will require a joint inquiry by Nato and Pakistan into the causes of the tragedy.
If the inquiry finds that some officers neglected to follow the protocol applicable to operations on the border, then such officers would need to face court-martial.
One must also not overlook the consequence of an extended war on the people of the affected region. An examination of the situation shows that both in Afghanistan and Pakistan the majority of the affected people are Pakhtuns. In both countries they have been bearing the brunt of conflict over the last three decades. Death, injury, displacement and economic hardship blight their lives.
In fact, some ask whether the war in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani Pakhtun areas does not fall under the definition of ‘genocide’ as stated in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).
The convention notes, among other things, that actions committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part would constitute the crime of genocide.
Some argue that this attack was the first salvo of a new phase in the war in this region and directed against Pakistan. However, this projection does not fit into the other time lines that indicate a commitment to withdraw by 2014. One thing is certain that when the fighting ends, the Pakhtuns will be the main beneficiaries of peace.
Article was published on dawn newspaper