By Ramtanu Maitra
AAKROSH. July 2012. Volume 15. Number 56
A representative parliament of 180 million people has spoken on one subject. A U.S. apology is something which should have been forthcoming the day this incident happened and what a partnership not only demands, but requires.
—Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan Foreign Minister, 5 June 2012
We are reaching the limits of our patience, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven.
—Leon Panetta, U.S. Secretary of Defence, 7 June 2012
On 9 June, U.S. assistant secretary of defence Peter Lavoy arrived in Islamabad on a two-day visit to initiate talks with Pakistani authorities aimed at easing the highly twisted U.S.–Pakistan relationship. Lavoy, an intelligence officer, spent 48 hours in Islamabad trying hard to set up a meeting with Pakistan’s chief of armed services (COAS), General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Kayani, however, had no time for the Obama administration representative. No talks took place, and Lavoy came back to Washington empty handed.
Within 48 hours after Lavoy’s ignominious failure to get anywhere with America’s chief ally in the 11-year-long “war on terror,” which is now waged by more than 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, Washington withdrew a technical team sent to Islamabad to negotiate the opening of the NATO inland supply lines that snake through Pakistan into neighbouring Afghanistan. That team had been in Pakistan for 45 days, trying to iron out the technical glitches that kept the supply lines shut. They have been closed since last November, when a U.S./NATO airstrike on the Pakistani outpost at Salala, bordering eastern Afghanistan, killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers.
“The talks have not collapsed,” an official who was not authorised to speak publicly on the deliberations told the New York Times. “They have come to the point where there is no reason for them to stay because they have gone as far as they can. When they have come to the point where a political decision is made, they can come back to tidy up the pieces.”
The White House issued a variation on this the same day, putting the blame on Pakistan for railroading the talks. White House press secretary Jay Carney told the media that the onus for resuming the talks is on Pakistan. “We saw it as the right move to withdraw” the U.S. negotiating team, he said, adding that it had largely completed its work. “We are ready to send officials back to Islamabad when the Pakistani government is ready to conclude the agreement.”
On 14 June, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, who has become visibly assertive in taking a hard line on the dispute, told reporters in Kabul that Pakistan was not haggling with the United States over transportation fees for the supplies. “Pakistan still wants an unconditional apology and the reassurance that the Salala type of incident does not happen again,” she said, referring to the border area where the November incident took place.
A day earlier, Khar, who was in Kabul on 14 June to attend the second “Hearts of Asia” conference organised by President Hamid Karzai, had told a visiting U.S. congressional delegation headed by Representative Todd Platts of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the bilateral ties between the two allies were very significant and neither could afford to ignore reality. She also told American lawmakers that “both sides have shared goals of peace and prosperity in the region” and called for working together to strengthen the relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect.
There appears to be a clear recognition in Islamabad that the stuck-in-the-mud relationship with the United States must be reopened. But at the same time, it is also clear that Islamabad and Rawalpindi, having taken a stance and stood by it for almost eight months at the time of writing, cannot summarily drop the demand for an official U.S. apology without disastrous political consequences. Pakistani authorities are aware of the power of anti-American forces within the country, including a large contingent of jihadis and right-wing Islamic political forces, who could pose further law-and-order threats to the country and a fundamental challenge to Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Given the situation, it would appear that only some form of concession by Washington on the apology issue could get the ball rolling.
THE STICKING POINTS
When the U.S./NATO campaign to remove Afghanistan’s Taliban regime for harbouring al-Qaeda, eradicate al-Qaeda and ensure total control over Afghanistan began in 2001, cracks began to appear in relations between Washington and Islamabad almost immediately. It was evident from the outset that the United States would do its best to keep Pakistan from securing strategic access to Afghanistan and, at the same time, expected Islamabad to extend unqualified support to the U.S./NATO campaign. Whether Washington failed to notice or simply chose to ignore, it was plain that under President Pervez Musharraf—at the time the “Great Pakistani Hope” of the George W. Bush administration and its neo-con controllers—Pakistan did not want to abandon its strategic interest in maintaining some sort of control over Afghanistan just to make the United States-led campaign a success.
Although the divergent objectives of the two allies in this ambiguous “war on terror” were never spelled out clearly, during the following decade of military campaigns in Afghanistan, both parties adopted duplicitous roles to achieve their divergent ends. These duplicitous roles led to actions that undermined and hurt both of them.
Throughout these 11 years, Pakistan responded to the U.S. demands haltingly. It took a step forward and then took another sideward. When the killing of Taliban cadre by U.S./NATO troops stirred up Pakistan’s tribal population—who, like most Afghan Taliban, are Pushtuns — the United States wanted the Pakistani military to eliminate them. Pakistan had no interest in carrying out a war of attrition against its own people, but did it anyway, keeping the game of duplicity going.
Pakistan’s military actions in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan had the effect of hardening the Pakistani militants, and Islamabad and Rawalpindi soon enough found themselves immersed in domestic turmoil. Thousands of Pakistani citizens, as well as soldiers, died in these military campaigns. The result of Pakistan’s campaign against its own people for supporting the Afghan Taliban and opposing the foreign troops across the undefined border with Afghanistan has been well documented. It gave rise to a more virulent form of militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas, as well as in the southern part of Pakistan’s Punjab province. The militants infiltrated the Swat Valley and even the country’s main bastion, its military, and pose a real threat to Pakistan’s fragile political and social systems.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the utter failure of the U.S./NATO troops to secure control over the country gave rise to a new blame game. As Washington ramped up accusations against Pakistan for the rise in insurgency in Afghanistan, particularly after 2005, the hardening of the U.S. attitude toward Pakistan began to show. A concerted blaming of Pakistan for the foreign troops’ failures was orchestrated from Washington and European capitals. What the Americans and Europeans refused to acknowledge was (1) the growing instability within Pakistan itself caused by the Afghan war and (2) the growing inability of Pakistani authorities to contain the situation and at the same time deliver what the Americans and Europeans demanded.
As the situation rapidly grew worse, more policies were put in place by both parties to undermine and hurt each other further. Having secured control over the Pakistani ambassador, Hussain Haqqani, Washington pushed hundreds, if not thousands, of intelligence and security personnel inside Pakistan to procure “better intelligence” and adopted covert means to eliminate militants that Islamabad and Rawalpindi had not eliminated, or perhaps, were not willing to eliminate. Finding it increasingly dangerous to take on thousands and thousands of anti-U.S./NATO militants, Islamabad and Rawalpindi allowed some militants to grow bigger and began to protect some others. The process created a flood of bad blood between Washington and Islamabad, although a stage-managed, superficial bonhomie was exhibited from time to time.
Washington continued to provide Pakistan with some money to carry out larger military campaigns against its own militants; and, in return, Pakistan carried out some housecleaning operations primarily to “satisfy” Washington’s bigwigs. But long before U.S.–Pakistan relations reached their present nadir, the core of trust between two had withered away. Then, around 2009, the scars began to show up, and it became evident that the United States would not hesitate to do things that could harm Pakistan’s political and military sectors to achieve its unspecified end. It also became clear that not only would Pakistan not walk an extra mile to help the United States in Afghanistan but that Islamabad would no longer exert itself to rein in those hell-bent on hurting U.S. troops and confounding the U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Put simply, a proxy war to inflict a thousand cuts on each other was added to the agenda of U.S.–Pakistan relations.
THE CAMP CHAPMAN MASSACRE
The stalemate between the two that prevails now is the outcome of these long years of a transactional relationship coming unhinged. If one had to identify when the point of no return between the two showed up, it would most likely be 30 December 2009, when seven CIA officers were killed at Camp Chapman. It was a suicide attack against Forward Operating Base Chapman, a key CIA facility in Afghanistan, located near the eastern Afghan city of Khost in an area considered a stronghold of the Taliban movement.
Following the attack, Washington claimed that the suicide bomber was one Humam al-Balawi. Reports said al-Balawi was a Jordanian “double agent,” an extremist Islamist sympathetic to al-Qaeda who had “turned” into a Jordanian intelligence (GID) “agent” and informant. However, since Camp Chapman was located in an area where the Pakistan-based Haqqani network was active against the foreign troops across the border, a number of terrorism experts pointed out that the operation could not have been carried without the full knowledge of the Haqqani network. The United States has long identified the Haqqani network as a dangerous threat and accused Pakistan’s security apparatus of protecting this anti-American group of terrorists.
Early this year, on 6 January, the Times of London reported online that the attack at the CIA base near Khost required the prior knowledge and assistance of the Haqqani network. Michael Scheuer, a terrorism expert based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who once led the CIA team looking for bin Laden, said the Haqqanis must have been apprised in advance of the 30 December attack. “There is no way this operation would have occurred in Khost without the knowledge and active support of Jalaluddin Haqqani and/or his son,” Scheuer told the Times of London.
UPI also reported on 6 January that Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier who was the security chief of Pakistan’s tribal region, had said the attack “may have been planned by al-Qaeda, but it could not have been possible without the help of the Haqqani group, which has its stronghold in Khost.”
Because of this alleged link between the Haqqani group, the Camp Chapman attack and the protection provided by Pakistani security forces to the Haqqani group, the Times of London said the “bombing heightened tensions between the United States and Pakistan because Pakistan has not gone after the Haqqanis, who have free rein in regions on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border where bin Laden is suspected to be hiding.” The involvement of the Haqqani group in the Camp Chapman massacre and the protection it allegedly enjoys inside Pakistan became a source of on-going tension between Washington and Islamabad.
THE KERRY-LUGAR BILL
Just months before the Camp Chapman incident, on 15 October 2009, U.S. president Barack Obama signed the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill into law. Under the legislation, it was determined that Pakistan would receive $1.5 billion annually in economic assistance for five years from 2010 to 2014, which would be geared toward economically uplifting the Pakistani people, strengthening institutions of democratic governance and bolstering health, education and infrastructure facilities for the people.
The bill, which because of its terms was brought before the Pakistan Parliament, created yet another point of tension between Islamabad and Washington. As Zahid U. Kramet, a Lahore-based political analyst, observed in his 14 October 2009 Asia Times article, “Kerry-Lugar Bill a Catch-22 for Pakistan,” the conditions attached rubbed Pakistan the wrong way and produced negative reactions, particularly in the print media, where some of the country’s leading columnists berated the bill on the “sovereignty” factor. Legislators sitting on the opposition benches and political figures outside the government panned the bill for the same reason.
Kramet referred to a column by the influential Ayaz Amir, also an opposition legislator, stating that the “conditionalities” embedded in the bill were grossly demeaning. In his weekly feature in the News, “Kerry-Lugar: Bill or Document of Surrender,” Ayaz Amir opined, “A convicted rapist out on parole would be required to give fewer assurances of good conduct.”
On 7 October 2009, the Pakistan military expressed publicly its own “serious concern” over the civilian government’s approval of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. It was evident that the Pakistan military had come to the conclusion that the objective of the legislation was to curtail its role.
Although the bill was approved by the Pakistan parliament, the debate was rancorous and clearly exhibited many of the lawmakers’ apprehension along the lines defined by the military. Stepping up the criticism after his meeting with the army chief, Chaudhary Nisar Ahmad Khan, one opposition leader told the National Assembly: “Under the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the command of the Pakistan Army will, instead of remaining under the president and the prime minister, be under the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Syed Munawwar Hasan, the emir of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Pakistan, announced that his party would hold a countrywide referendum asking the people to vote in favour or against the acceptance of the Kerry-Lugar Bill by Pakistan. The religious leader described the U.S. legislation as an insult to Pakistan, adding, “The U.S. has started tightening the noose around Pakistan. Its freedom, sovereignty and national dignity are being traded for aid. The conditions of the Kerry-Lugar Bill are insulting.”
THE RAYMOND DAVIS CASE
More recently, on 27 January 2011, Raymond Allen Davis, an American, shot and killed two Pakistanis on the streets of Lahore. When arrested by the Lahore police, he said he was being robbed when he shot. Immediately, contradictory statements were issued from both Pakistan and the United States trying to pin down who Davis was.
According to ABC News, Davis was a private security officer. The U.S. embassy said Davis was assigned to the embassy in Islamabad and had a U.S. diplomatic passport and Pakistani visa valid until June 2012. Washington called for his release, saying that as a diplomat, Davis had immunity under the Vienna Convention. But within hours, the Dawn News Urdu channel broadcast images of Davis’s passport, which did not have a diplomatic visa. In a 17 February article, “U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Partnership after the Raymond Davis Incident,” Michael Cohen of the Atlantic Council pointed out that Davis was a member of the U.S. embassy’s technical and administrative staff, which means that he has fairly absolute diplomatic immunity and should be released from prison.
Meanwhile, the killing provided an opportunity for hard-line anti-U.S. militants in Pakistan to put pressure on Islamabad. JI, a Saudi-backed religious and political party capable of organising large protests, accused the United States of exerting “unprincipled and unlawful” pressure on Pakistan. “Why is America hell bent on trampling on Pakistani law and its judicial system? We will forcefully protest if he is released without a court order,” JI’s deputy chief, Liaquat Baloch, told Reuters. In addition to JI, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Jamaat ud-Dawa and other religious parties rallied and thundered against the killings. The message they conveyed to Islamabad was that Davis could not be released. JI and other religious parties do not win many votes in elections, but the government cannot afford to ignore their street power and capability to disrupt. As a result, Davis was sent to jail, where he languished for just over a month, when he was released and whisked home.
The incident was a serious blow to U.S.–Pakistan relations, already quite rocky. It raised questions among Pakistanis about what exactly Davis was doing, how much of his activities were sanctioned by the government and whether the role of other Americans operating within Pakistan was to undermine the country’s sovereignty. As had always been the hallmark of the U.S.–Pakistan transactional relationship, these obvious questions were left hanging in the air and fuzzy. But by not coming clean with answers, Islamabad provided more fodder to the anti-U.S. Pakistani militants to further denigrate America’s role in Pakistan. The Washington Post reported at the time that the two governments had suspended high-level diplomatic ties over the incident, albeit temporarily.
THE OSAMA ASSASSINATION
Months later, on 1 May 2011, in a late-night appearance in the East Room of the White House, President Obama announced that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that inside Pakistan, U.S. military and CIA operatives had finally cornered and killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, who had orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and eluded the U.S. security dragnet for about a decade. Bin Laden was later buried at sea, the American officials said.
The announcement set off instantaneous celebrations in parts of the United States. In a 1 May article, “Bin Laden Is Dead, Obama Says,” Peter Baker, Helen Cooper and Mark Mazzetti wrote: “The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered outside the White House, in Times Square and at the ground zero site, waving American flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, ‘U.S.A., U.S.A.!’ In New York City, crowds sang “The Star- Spangled Banner.” Throughout downtown Washington, drivers honked horns deep into the night.”
The outpouring of joy in the United States on the news of bin Laden’s death was not difficult to fathom. He had been identified for years as the greatest terrorist threat to the United States, which went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 not only to dismantle al-Qaeda but also to eliminate the Osama threat. The war had dragged on, taking its toll in lives and money, but had yet to bring an end to this terrorist menace. Therefore, the news that bin Laden had been eliminated was considered a token of success in the Afghanistan campaign by at least some Americans. In addition, bin Laden’s killing brought Pakistan’s “perfidious role” in protecting the anti-American terrorist to the attention of all Americans. As a result, strong words were used throughout the United States accusing Pakistan of acting more as an enemy than an ally.
In Pakistan, the reaction to the news was altogether different. On 3 May, New York Times correspondents Jan Perlez and David Rohde reported that on 2 May, the Pakistan government lashed out, saying that the United States had taken “an unauthorized unilateral action” that would not be tolerated in the future. The foreign ministry further stated, “Such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the United States.”
Officially, both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hailed the success of the operation and said that Pakistan’s soil would not be allowed to be used against any other country for terrorism. But it soon became evident that if, indeed, Zardari and Gilani believed that the bin Laden killing was a success, they were in the minority within their country. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, JUI-F deputy parliamentary leader Mufti Kifayatullah declared Osama a “hero” and stated, “The great Muslim heroes are being killed here in Pakistan, and it is a matter of shame for the Pakistan Army when the foreign forces come and kill people on our soil.”
The harsh words concerning Pakistani duplicity that issued from the United States drew some sharp responses from Pakistan. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said that the Pakistani military had scrambled F-16s after they became aware of the attack, but that they reached the compound after American helicopters had left. Bashir also warned the United States and India against any such covert operations in the future, saying this would lead to a terrible catastrophe. Speaking at the Lahore Press Club on 7 May, former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi criticised the government and openly demanded an explanation from top officials regarding the incident. He also called for President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to resign, terming the American raid an “unprovoked aggression.”
While civilians and politicians expressed their anger openly against the raid, Pakistan’s military officials declined to comment, referring questions to the foreign ministry. After the operation, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence admitted that there had been an intelligence failure. Pakistan’s military chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, called the operation a “misadventure” and stated that no further raids would be tolerated. In addition, he announced that the number of private American military personnel in Pakistan would be reduced “to the minimum essential.”
It is unlikely that either side has come clear on the raid. But whatever the conditions under which it was conducted—whether Pakistan was informed prior to the raid, whether it was a joint operation or whether Pakistan was kept in the dark all along—the raid itself significantly deepened the fissure in U.S.–Pakistan relations. It was evident that Washington and the Obama administration sought unqualified praise from Pakistan’s authorities on the success of the raid, but that did not materialise. It is likely that the Pakistani authorities were aware that a majority of Pakistani citizens had turned anti-American by then, and they figured it would be dangerous to shower praise on Washington for the killing of Osama bin Laden, who was still considered an icon of Islamic defiance against the Western powers by many Pakistanis, some of whom are very much a part of that country’s power structure.
Yet another shoe was to drop from this incident. Dr. Shakil Afridi was later identified as the one who had pointed out bin Laden for the Americans. Afridi had set up a hepatitis B vaccination scheme in Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was hiding, that allegedly enabled him to take blood samples from the inhabitants of bin Laden’s three-story house and thus provide DNA evidence the CIA could use to prove he was there. Ostensibly, no one in Pakistan knew about Dr. Afridi’s target.
Following bin Laden’s killing, Dr. Afridi was picked up by Pakistani intelligence. According to Pakistani officials and Western aid workers, he told authorities that he had been introduced to the CIA through Save the Children, an NGO. Save the Children vigorously denied the claim. Meanwhile, Washington lauded Dr. Afridi’s work and said it helped them to locate Osama. Three weeks later, Pakistani intelligence arrested Afridi. He was subsequently tried in Pakistan and sentenced on 23 May to 33 years in prison for treason in an administrative action under colonial-era laws that avoided a public trial.
The sentencing of Dr. Afridi by Pakistani authorities infuriated Washington. From the U.S. standpoint, Afridi had carried out a patriotic and heroic act. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) issued a statement calling the verdict “shocking and outrageous.” Their statement said, “What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason. It was a courageous, heroic and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most-wanted terrorist in the world — a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands. Dr. Afridi set an example that we wish others in Pakistan had followed long ago. He should be praised and rewarded for his actions, not punished and slandered.” The bottom line is that the episode fuelled the fires of anger and mistrust between the United States and Pakistan and became another sticking point.
THE SALALA OUTPOST INCIDENT
What might be considered “the final straw” occurred on 26 November 2011, when U.S.-led NATO forces opened fire on two Pakistani check posts near the Pakistan–Afghanistan border. According to Pakistan’s director general of military operations, Major General Ashfaq Nadeem, the attack was a coordinated NATO strike and used two AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters and an AC-130H Specter gunship, with two F-15E Eagle fighter jets as a “display of force.” An MC-12W Liberty turbo-propeller aircraft was used in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role. The check posts were located 200 metres to 2.5 kilometres inside Pakistan from the border with Afghanistan in the Salala area of the Baizai subdivision of the Mohmand tribal region in FATA, Pakistan. The two check posts were separated by a distance of one kilometre on the Salala mountaintop. The attacks caused the death of up to 24 Pakistani soldiers, including two officers—Major Mujahid Mirani and Captain Usman Ali—and 13 other soldiers were injured. Both sides reported they were attacked first.
On 24 December 2011, the U.S. Investigation Report into the Salala incident was delivered to the Pakistan army’s general headquarters (GHQ). This report is the same unclassified version that is available on the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) website. The U.S. investigation was carried out by two teams, one led by U.S. air force brigadier general Stephen Clark and another, from NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Brunssum, under the leadership of Canadian army brigadier-general Michael Jorgensen. The investigation was carried out during the two-week period from 2 December to 16 December. The teams worked in parallel, closely cooperating and collaborating throughout to produce a single unclassified report for public consumption and a classified report for internal use. The teams visited North Kabul International Airport, Bagram airfield, Jalalabad airfield and Forward Operating Base Joyce to conduct interviews and review video and documentary evidence.
A number of critical findings were contained in the final report. It admitted that the standard operating procedures and directives related to border-area/cross-border operations lacked clarity and precision and were not followed; that time-sensitive senior command override measures for border-area incidents were lacking; that premission, near-border coordination for this operation was inadequate; and that a series of miscommunications within the chain of command—especially in the area of the border coordination nexus—delayed confirmation of the identity of the Pakistani forces.
In essence, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took some blame for the incident but also pointed a finger at the Pakistani military for its inadequacy in communicating to the ISAF information about its location. Pakistan did not agree with the report, stating that it was not factually correct. However, what most incensed Islamabad was the White House’s outright refusal to apologise to Pakistan for this killing of Pakistani soldiers. The White House still holds to that position, while Islamabad continues to demand a formal apology.
The fallout in bilateral relations from the Salala incident was severe and clearly visible. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Pakistan closed down all the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, leaving the blockaded supply trucks vulnerable to attack. NATO trucks had been using routes in the Khyber Agency (through the Khyber Pass at Torkham) and Balochistan (near Chaman) to supply the U.S. and international forces fighting in Afghanistan.
On 26 November 2011, the day the Salala outpost incident occurred, Pakistan gave the United States a deadline of 15 days to shut down and vacate Shamsi airfield in the southwestern Balochistan province. It came to light at this time that U.S. forces and the CIA had reportedly leased this airbase in 2001 for joint surveillance and to launch drone attacks against militants in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. The Shamsi airbase was the only military base in Pakistan being used by the United States, and the order for U.S. personnel to evacuate pointed to a clear rift and significant further deterioration of relations between the two countries.
In early December, U.S. military personnel occupying the base, along with all military equipment, were shifted to the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan via U.S. military aircraft. On 10 December, Pakistani troops from the Frontier Corps took full control of the airfield, as scheduled, and by 11 December, all remaining American staff were evacuated. On establishing control of the airfield, Pakistani authorities removed the U.S. flag from the base and replaced it with the flag of Pakistan.
In the wake of the incident, the Pakistan government also refused to attend the Bonn conference on Afghanistan scheduled for 5 December. The event in Bonn, Germany, had been billed as an important international conference, and international pressure on Pakistan mounted as it dug in its heels against attending. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton contacted Pakistan prime minister Gilani, but her plea was rejected; Pakistani public opinion simply prohibited the government’s participation. The conference was generally regarded as a disappointment, partly because of Pakistan’s absence.
DRONE ATTACKS: THE ON-GOING FALLOUT
Since 2004, the United States has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by the CIA’s Special Activities Division. Some parts of the media refer to the series of attacks as a “drone war.” The covert program has become a flashpoint for tension between the United States and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the strikes are often linked to the mushrooming of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and have opened the scope and extent of CIA activities in the country to question. As a result, Islamabad publicly condemns the attacks. But, at the same time, it is evident that Islamabad has also secretly shared intelligence with the United States and allegedly allowed the drones to operate from within the country.
Reports that there was a secret deal between the United States and Pakistan permitting the drone attacks surfaced as early as 4 October 2008, in the Washington Post. In February 2009, U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairperson of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, denied this. However, according to secret diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani not only tacitly agreed to the drone flights but also, in 2008, requested the Americans to increase them. Yet today, Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik claims the drone missiles cause too much collateral damage. A few militants get killed, but the majority of victims are innocent citizens, says Malik.
Barack Obama vastly accelerated the drone program after becoming U.S. president in 2009. A list of the high-ranking victims of the drones was provided to Pakistan in that year, and the Obama administration broadened the attacks to include targets seeking to destabilise Pakistani civilian government. For instance, the attacks of 14 and 16 February 2009 targeted training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud, the then chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
More recently, since abandoning the counterinsurgency policy adopted briefly during 2010–2011, when General Stanley McChrystal headed the ISAF in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO, under General Petreaus and then General John Allen, have repositioned a large contingent of troops in eastern Afghanistan to carry out counterterrorist attacks on the Taliban and other insurgents operating from bases inside Pakistan’s tribal area—North and South Waziristan, in particular. After the killing of Osama bin Laden, the United States turned its attention to the Haqqani network, now considered the most lethal foe the ISAF troops face and based, according to Washington, in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area.
Islamabad denies the group’s presence on Pakistani soil, but Washington pays little attention to such denials and retaliates by using drones to go after the network members. At his final appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 22 September 2011, before he retired, U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated that the Haqqani terror network “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.” Admiral Mullen’s statement had been said in private earlier, but before that day, had never been put on the record by a senior U.S. official.
A day later, in an article, “A New al-Qaeda in Pakistan,” in Daily Beast, Tara McKelvey wrote, “The Americans fear that the Haqqanis have become increasingly lethal and effective in the region, even as the U.S. thins out al-Qaeda’s top leadership and capabilities. The main difference is that the Haqqanis don’t aspire to global action; they are focused solely on their power base in Southern Asia. But aided by ISI, they could become an increasing menace in the region, on par with al-Qaeda.” American officials have long accused the Pakistani military of having ties with terrorists, and they reportedly discussed the Haqqani fighters with Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI, pointed out McKelvey during one of his 2011 visits to Washington.
The founder of the network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, once helped assemble mujahideen fighters who stood up against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, and he served as minister of tribal affairs for the Taliban. After the Americans invaded Afghanistan, he turned around and set his fighters against the U.S. troops. Today, the network has between 4,000 and 12,000 fighters, reports the New York Times, and it is run by Haqqani’s 36-year-old son, Sirajuddin.
One of the targets of U.S. drone-fired missiles is the bazaar of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. “Miramshah serves as the headquarters of the al-Qaeda–linked Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and is supported by Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate,” says Bill Roggio in the Long War Journal on 14 June 2012. “The town serves as one of the ‘ground zeros’ of terror groups based in North Waziristan, a U.S. intelligence official has told the Long War Journal. Other main centers of terror activity in North Waziristan include Datta Khel, Mir Ali and the Shawal Valley.”
The first drone attack on Miramshah on record took place on 17 March 2010 and killed Sadam Hussein Al Hussami, also known as Ghazwan al Yemeni, and three other al-Qaeda operatives. Hussami was a protégé of Abu Khabab al Masri, al-Qaeda’s top bomb maker and weapons of mass destruction chief, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in South Waziristan in July 2008. Hussami was training al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and outside the region and was a key planner in the suicide attack on Combat Outpost Chapman that that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The slain intelligence operatives were involved in gathering intelligence for the hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan–Pakistan border, Roggio said.
The next strike on the bazaar took place almost two years later, on 8 February 2012, when the United States killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leader. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border. He also linked up members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with al-Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al-Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. He was later promoted to lead al-Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas. In very recent days, U.S. Predator/Reaper drones have begun pounding the Miramshah bazaar once again, killing militants and some civilians as well.
HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS
Pakistan has repeatedly protested the drone campaign, pointing out that it constitutes an infringement of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The high incidence of civilian deaths in the attacks, including that of women and children, has further angered the Pakistani government and people. In November 2008, Islamabad told General David Petraeus that the strikes were unhelpful.
Apart from the violation of sovereign rights of the targeted nations, drone attacks have also alerted those who consider such attacks a violation of human rights. On 3 June 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) delivered a report sharply critical of the U.S. tactics. The report asserted that the U.S. government had failed to keep track of the civilian casualties of its military operations, including the drone attacks, and to provide a means for citizens of affected nations to obtain information about the casualties and any legal inquests regarding them.
In fact, reports of the number of militants versus civilian casualties differ widely. In a 2009 opinion article, Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution wrote that drone strikes may have killed “10 or so civilians” for every “mid- and high-ranking [al-Qaeda and Taliban] leader.” In contrast, the New America Foundation estimates that 80 per cent of those killed in the attacks have been militants. The Pakistan military has stated that most of those killed were hardcore al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. And the CIA maintains that the strikes conducted since May 2010 have killed more than 600 militants and have not caused any civilian fatalities, a claim that experts dispute and have called absurd.
Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that of a total death count of between 1,658 and 2,597 individuals, about 391 to 780 were civilians (of which 160 were children). The Bureau also found that since President Obama took office, at least 50 civilians have been killed in follow-up strikes when they went to help the victims. In addition, more than 20 civilians have been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.
On 27 October 2009, UNHRC investigator Philip Alston called on the United States to demonstrate that it was not randomly killing people in violation of international law through its use of drones on the Afghan border. Alston criticised the U.S. refusal to respond to the United Nations’ concerns. On 2 June 2010, Alston’s team released a report on its investigation into the drone strikes, criticising the United States for being “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world. Alston, however, acknowledged that the drone attacks may be justified under the right to self-defence.
Indeed, in March 2010, U.S. State Department officially claimed just that. State Department legal advisor Harold Koh stated that the drone strikes were legal because of the right to self-defence. According to Koh, the United States is involved in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their affiliates and, therefore, may use force consistent with self-defence under international law. And significantly, in a February 2012 poll, 83 per cent of Americans (and 77 per cent of those who identify themselves as Liberal Democrats) replied that they support the drone strikes.
In November 2011, the drone strikes were halted for approximately two months in the crisis that erupted following the Salala incident. In fact, on 9 December, Pakistan’s army chief, General Kayani, issued a directive to shoot down U.S. drones. A senior Pakistani military official stated, “Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down.” By 10 January 2012, however, the drone attacks had resumed. And in May, they were stepped up after talks at the NATO summit in Chicago failed to yield the progress Washington sought in regard to Pakistan’s closure of the alliance’s supply routes into Afghanistan.
Though American legislators have so far declined to take up the significant legal and constitutional issues posed by a war that is essentially being waged by the executive branch, those issues remain. And the drone campaign’s troublesome implications for national sovereignty and human rights will not go away either. On 7 June 2012, after a four-day visit to Pakistan, Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, called for a new investigation into the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, repeatedly referring to the attacks as “indiscriminate” and a human rights violation.
OTHER SORE POINTS
While the Camp Chapman massacre, the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the Raymond Davis case, the bin Laden assassination and the continuing drone attacks have played the biggest role in souring U.S.–Pakistan relations, there have been many other smaller incidents that contributed to the present stalemate and remain sore points.
For instance, when insurgents attacked the most secure areas of Kabul on 15 April 2012, U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker said it was unlikely the Afghan Taliban had the capacity to launch the attacks on its own and speculated that the Haqqani network—whose fighters are based in the Afghanistan–Pakistan border area—were involved. “The Taliban are really good at issuing statements. Less good at actually fighting,” he told CNN. “My guess, based on previous experience here, is this is a set of Haqqani network operations out of north Waziristan and the Pakistani tribal areas. Frankly I don’t think the Taliban is good enough.” Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters that initial findings showed that the Haqqanis were involved in the 15 April attacks.
Another issue that created a mild, but not to be forgotten, turbulence arose when U.S. congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) teamed up with Representative Steve King (R-IA) and Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) to submit H.Con.Res. 104 last February, calling for an independent Balochistan. The bill was not accepted by U.S. Congress, but the arrogance inherent in this action produced massive anti-U.S. demonstrations in Pakistan and soured the bilateral relationship further. As thousands of Difa-e-Pakistan rallied in Islamabad against the proposed bill, Islamabad called in U.S. chargé d’affaires Richard Hoagland and told him in clear terms that the move in U.S. Congress was contrary to the spirit of friendly relations and violated the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the recognised norms of interstate conduct.
In fact, many small incidents inside Pakistan over the years involving Americans or anti-American Pakistani nationals have eroded relations. The relationship was bled dry by a thousand cuts, one might say. One fundamental reason behind that is that most of these incidents, if not all, were kept under wraps and what was served out to the public as information on U.S.–Pakistan relations was full of holes. Lack of transparency has always been a hallmark of the relationship, giving rise to the suspicion, particularly in Pakistan, that Washington is carrying out illegal activities with a wink and nod from Pakistani intelligence, if not Islamabad.
WHERE WILL THE ROADS LEAD?
Despite all that has happened and the many other incidents of substance that could happen in the near future, there is no doubt that some kind of workable relationship between the two will emerge. Should that expectation bite the dust, Pakistan will become even more unstable. It is also important to point out that such a “workable” relationship will, however, be limited. Any trust between Islamabad and Washington has vanished completely. It is well-nigh impossible to re-establish that trust unless a sea change occurs in the leadership of both countries.
After Osama bin Laden was eliminated, some pundits claimed that the existence of Osama in Pakistan—with Pakistan claiming ignorance all these years—had been a unique sticking point that kept the relationship unstable. His death would clear the way for better relations, they said. And some in the United States even went so far as to claim that bin Laden’s death would help pave the way for a political settlement in Afghanistan by making it easier for the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Those pundits have been proven wrong; not only did they fail to understand Taliban–al-Qaeda relations, they also missed the fact that by 2011, Osama bin Laden was a mere “passenger” within the terrorist community, not in the driver’s seat.
Considering the pieces that have been placed on the table by each side, it is not difficult to start a working relationship. Pakistan demands of the United States an apology for the deaths of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers caused by ISAF shelling at the Salala outpost. Washington will lose nothing by extending this apology, particularly since the investigative report prepared by USCENTCOM investigators has enough evidence to establish the fact that malcommunication and other inadequacies led to the shelling.
Pakistan’s other demand at this point is for the United States to stop the incessant drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area. There is no doubt that the U.S./NATO troops want to weaken, if not eliminate, the Haqqani group and other insurgents working in that area. But Washington must also realise that these insurgents are Pakistani citizens and that the terrain is such that it is extremely difficult for the Pakistani military, good in conventional warfare but virtual novices in dealing with insurgents who do not play by the rules, to deal with them effectively—and act accordingly. The Pakistan military will earn very few friends at the cost of creating legions of enemies if it carries out the kind of military campaign that Washington demands.
The most important thing for Washington is to acknowledge that the foreign troops are being attacked by tribal militants simply because the foreign troops are there. If they leave Afghanistan, threats from the Haqqani group will vanish instantly.
The onus to open the supply lines, and thus pave the way for developing working relations, lies with the United States. If Pakistan withdraws its demand for an apology for the killing of its soldiers by the ISAF, accepts the drone attacks as legitimate and viable, and reopens the supply lines, Washington might be thrilled. But acceding to these U.S. demands will decisively strengthen the anti-American Islamic jihadis within Pakistan and seriously weaken both Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Is that what the Obama administration wants?
Washington is now in the process of making plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. Even if it does not want to leave with all its bags and baggage, having a hostile Pakistan blocking its exit route will surely exacerbate the difficulties. Moreover, should the United States want to maintain a few thousand troops permanently in Afghanistan, continuing to identify Islamabad as an enemy nation and act accordingly will not make that a very viable prospect. A working relationship with Pakistan, on the other hand, could help Washington forward its plans to sort things out with the Afghans before their partial withdrawal from that country in 2014.
Despite statements issued from Washington from time to time expressing the absolute necessity of improving relations with Pakistan, the “my way or the highway” attitude in Washington is evident. While U.S. negotiators sat in Pakistan cooling their heels, U.S. defence secretary Leon Panetta, skipping over Pakistan to visit India and Afghanistan, issued statements designed to antagonise Islamabad. In Kabul, he said, “We are reaching the limits of our patience, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven.” It is not clear what he meant by that; but what is clear is that it was meant to nettle Islamabad.
And, predictably, that happened. Days after Secretary Panetta issued a seemingly veiled threat, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, in Kabul, attending a conference, asserted once more that Pakistan wants an apology for a NATO cross-border strike that killed two dozen of its soldiers last year before it will consider reopening supply routes to foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Finally, when the United States announced in early June that the Obama administration would send a high-level envoy to start talks in Islamabad, who did it send? It sent an assistant secretary of defence, Peter Lavoy, a mere intelligence officer. When the situation called for sending someone at the secretary level, Washington chose to send a lightweight, who sat around for three days in Islamabad seeking a meeting with General Kayani and returned on 10 June with nothing to show.
To begin with, sending Lavoy to resume talks was a nonstarter that could only have been meant to indicate Washington’s unwillingness to reopen talks. Islamabad is well aware that Lavoy is a mere intelligence officer, not a diplomat. Is it any surprise then that General Kayani refused to meet him?