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January 11, 2012

U.S. – Pakistan Relations in Deep Turmoil

By Syed Mahmood

A bombing on November 26, 2011, by U.S helicopters and F-15 fighter jets on two Pakistan military border posts in North-Western Pakistan has infuriated the Pakistani public and the Government of Pakistan. Under a new investigation by the U.S. Army, it was revealed that also a U.S.  AC–130 gunship flew two miles inside of Pakistani territory to fire upon very lightly equipped Pakistani soldiers. According to a U.S. investigation, the U.S. forces fired for around 45 minutes during the total 90 minute operation. Brigadier General Stephen Clark commented that NATO and the U.S. rules of engagement “lacked clarity and precision, and were not followed.”

Americans trying to justify this attack do admit to some mistakes. They say that the U.S. did not have proper communication with Pakistani authorities. The issue is not who is right and who is wrong, but in the final analysis, 26 Pakistani soldiers died and 13 were injured by American bombs and planes; this bombing was the last nail into the fragile U.S. – Pakistani relations. The Pakistani government decided to shut down two NATO supply lines. The United States was also asked to vacate the Shamsi air base in Baluchistan province, which was used for drone attacks by the U.S. on the tribal areas of Pakistan.

From the last few years, the U.S – Pakistani relations were going on a slippery slope. After the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. Naval Seals on Pakistani soil -- in Abbotabad without even informing and consulting Pakistani authorities -- It was the most humiliating action taken by the Americans, according to Pakistanis. Pakistan has been an ally of United States in the war of terror for the last ten years, yet, the United States has violated the sovereignty of this independent country, according to the Pakistani public.  After this incident, the relationship between these two allies went into further turmoil.

Through the Pakistani media, talk shows on TV, and telephone conversations with family and friends, one can read the minds of the Pakistani masses: their complaint is that the United States has taken Pakistani support for granted. The United States apparently does not respect the Pakistani point of view. The U.S. is always looking toward her national interest first. Pakistani national interest is not of American concern. By giving some dollars as AID, America expects Pakistani soldiers to fight their War.

Pakistan has lost 5,000 soldiers and 35,000 civilians during this war on terror. The combined forces of NATO did not have this many casualties. The Taliban considers Pakistani soldiers to be their enemy, because they are fighting the American’s War. It is very easy for them to kill Pakistani civilians by suicide bombing in the middle of a market or other public places. They believe that this war on terror was imposed by President Bush on the Pakistani public and former President Pervez Musharaf. The Pakistani public also complained that United States has never sincerely appreciated the sacrifices of Pakistani lives. The general attitude is that the United States is giving you money in AID. Therefore, the U.S. politicians and leaders always ask for Pakistanis to “do more.”

The Pakistani public is fed-up with this war on terror in Afghanistan by the U.S. It has dragged Pakistan into a political and economic mess. According to an estimate, this war on terror has cost around $70 billion to the Pakistani economy. It is a huge amount of money for a country like Pakistan.  To further complicate matters, no new investment is coming in to Pakistan. Unemployment rates are going higher every day.  Inflation is on the rise. There is very strong resentment in the Pakistani Nation against the War on Terror. The sentiments of the Pakistani population are “not to accept any AID money from the U.S.” --this money does not help any ordinary Pakistani. It goes into the pockets of top military brass and the civilian government. It only promotes corruption in the country.

The American media and Congressmen always remind Pakistanis that since the war on terror has started, the U.S. has given Pakistan $10 - $20 billion in AID money. Recently, on CNN, Perez Musharaf was asked about this AID package. Musharaf smiled and said, yes, the United States gives us AID: half of the money is in AID and rest of the money is the fee for our services which Pakistan provides to the NATO alliance. According to the Pakistani media, the U.S. is always behind by $1-- $2 billion in their payments. The American drone attacks have killed over 3,500 Pakistani men, women and children; according to Pakistani journalists, less than 10% of them were insurgents.

Pakistanis still remember that, after the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union’s army from December 24, 1979 – February 15, 1989: that with the combined effort of the Pakistani ISI, Saudi Arabian money and by the CIA’s active involvement, the Soviet army was defeated by the Afghani Mujahedeen. Without Pakistani help, the Afghan Mujahedeen could not have won this war. The United States imposed sanctions on Pakistan, because Pakistan was pursuing her role for nuclear power. India already had conducted her nuclear tests. The Pakistani government and her people were determined to go for nuclear power. In the past, Pakistan and the U.S. signed other defense treaties: SEATO- It was an organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia. It was established on February 19, 1955. CENTO – Central Treaty Organization was formed in 1955, by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and United Kingdom. In 1958 United States joined the military committee. The Pakistanis found that the U.S. was an unreliable partner. Even Hillary Clinton and other American leaders accepted that fact.

Pakistan’s former chief spy master of ISI, General Hamid Gul and one of the architects of the Afghan war against the former Soviet Union, worked very closely with the CIA. His advice to the Pakistani military and civil government was to re-evaluate the entire relationship with the U.S. Former President Pervez Musharaf had the same advice.

Since the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the U.S – Pakistan relations have gone up and down many times. This time around, things are different. The United States, a super power, is used to getting her way through money, intimidation, or buying the loyalty of the heads of states. The United States claimed that, in that region, American security is heavily dependent on a peaceful resolution of the Afghan war and Pakistan could play a main role in achieving this goal. In order to improve the present conditions and get out of this political turmoil, the United States should take the following steps:

  • The objective should be long term solutions. It should be a win - win situation for both parties.  The American Congress, Legislators, and executive branch should show some genuine appreciation for Pakistani sacrifices.
  • The United States must pay compensation for the civilian population who were killed during drone attacks in the last few years, including compensation for the twenty-six soldiers who were killed by the NATO attacks.
  • The Americans must show some respect for Pakistani sovereignty.
  • The United States should issue an apology and provide a statement of sorrow to the Pakistan government and the people. For a super-power like the United States, writing a letter of apology to a weaker nation is a sign of bravery, kindness and greatness.
  • In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, issued an executive order to hold Japanese Americans in internment camps.
  • In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed legislation and President Ronald Regan signed that legislation and apologized for the internment on the behalf of the United States government. Around $1.6 billion was disbursed to the Japanese–Americans and their heirs. Regan was a hero then and he is now.

Taking the name of Mullah Omar from the FBI’s list of ten most wanted people and helping to open a Taliban’s liaison office in Qatar is going to be very productive to start the peace process with the Taliban. In the last four to five years, in the op-ed, I have always advocated to start the peace process by bringing the Taliban to the table. During the negotiations, The Pakistani national interest should also have a proper place during the negotiation process.

Around the globe, the Europeans, Chinese and Russians are also very eager to see an honorable resolution to this problem.

Syed R. Mahmood is the founder President of American Institute of International Studies.