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December 1, 2011

US-led NATO attack on Pakistan worsens
Islamabad-Washington ties

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The already frayed US-Pakistan relations have fallen to their worst point after US-led NATO helicopters destroyed two Pakistani military check posts killing 24 soldiers and injuring 13 others. The checkposts - located about 2.5 kilometres inside the Pakistan-Afghanistan border - were set up to stop the cross border violation and infiltration of militants from Afghanistan into Pakistani area.

According to Director General, Military Operations, Maj. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem after the midnight on November 26, 2 to 3 helicopters appeared and started engaging Volcano post breaking down all communication systems. In response, the Boulder post engaged helicopters with anti aircraft guns and all available weapons. He said all channels of coordination methods were immediately activated. “We informed them about the attack. But, the helicopters reappeared and also engaged the Boulder post.” In both attacks, 24 soldiers including two officers were killed while 15 others sustained injuries.

The two military posts were located on a ridge in Mohmand region around 2.5 kilometer from the border with Afghanistan and their exact location had been provided to NATO and that the area had recently been cleared of militants, according to Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

The attack is the worst incident of its kind since  President General Parvez Musharraf allied Pakistan with the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, has strongly rejected accusations from Pakistan that Nato deliberately killed 24 Pakistani soldiers while Pakistan rejected Nato’s offers of carrying out joint investigation into the Nato raid. During a media briefing, Major General Ashfaq Nadeem said that there was no outcome of such joint probe into the past attacks. US-led investigators have been given until December 23 to probe the attacks.

In a sharp reaction to the unprovoked deadly attack, Pakistan government has ordered a review of all arrangements with the United States and NATO, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence activities.

On November 29, Pakistan decided to boycott a key international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn on December 5. The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting just days after Islamabad confirmed it was mulling its attendance in the German city of Bonn, where Pakistan’s participation was considered vital.

An extraordinary meeting of Defense Committee of Cabinet (DCC) held on November 26 night at Prime Minister's House decided to immediately close the NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines and asked the US to vacate the Shamsi air base within a fortnight. The Shamsi air base in Balochistan province is reportedly used as a hub for covert CIA drone strikes on Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan.

NATO supply vehicles

The NATO supply vehicles were immediately stopped at Torkham border and custom officials stopped clearing them. As a result hundreds of NATO supply vehicles got stuck on Pak-Afghan road from Jamrud to Torkham. The border crossing at Chaman in Balochistan was also closed. Reports said around 150 to 200 NATO trucks were sent back to Karachi and Quetta after their entry into Afghanistan was blocked by the Pakistani authorities.

The supply route remained closed for 11 days last year after Nato choppers intruded into Pakistani airspace and fired at a paramilitary force, killing two soldiers. The issue was resolved after apologies from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Nato leaders.

Pakistan is a vital land route for 49 percent of NATO's supplies to its troops in Afghanistan, according to a NATO spokesman.  About 40 per cent of Nato’s non-lethal supplies are transported through Pakistan using Chaman and Torkham border crossings — the preferred routes for being economical. NATO has developed an alternative northern route through central Asian states as a contingency for a situation where the Pakistani route is choked.

Notice sent to US for vacating Shamsi airbase within 15 days

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said that in line with the decisions of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, a notice has been sent to the United States for vacating the Shamsi airbase within 15 days.

On Nov 27, Pakistan rejected a request by United Arab Emirates to withdraw its demand of vacating Balochistan’s Shamsi airbase. The request was made by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zeyed Al-Nahyan in a one-on-one meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad.

It may be pointed out that the Shamsi airbase is on lease to the UAE which has sublet to US from where Drone operations were reportedly launched in Pakistan’s tribal territory. In a shocking disclosure Pakistan Air Chief Rao Qamar Suleman told a joint in-camera session of Pakistan parliament on 13 May 2011 that Pakistan’s Shamsi Air Base is under the control of United Arab Emirates, not in the control of Pakistan Air Force.

In February 2009, The Times (London) announced that it had obtained Google Earth images from 2006 which showed Predator aircraft parked outside a hangar at the end of the runway. The Times investigation was in response to a statement by US Senator Dianne Feinstein that the CIA was basing its drone aircraft in Pakistan. The U.S. company Blackwater was also reported to have a presence there, hired by the government to arm the drones with missiles. The Pakistan government has denied that the airfield is being used as a base for US military or covert operations. The New York Times cited a senior Pakistani military official as saying that in 2009 the drone operations were moved across the border to Afghanistan. [Wikipedia]

In the aftermath of US operation in Abbottabad, last June 2011, Pakistan publicly ordered the US to remove all of its personnel from the airfield. The United States and Pakistan announced a few days later that drone operations from the airfield had actually ceased in April 2011.

Jacobabad airbase

In a new twist to Shamsi airbase story, Former Information Minister Sheikh Rashid has demanded that that Pakistan should demand US pullout from Jacobabad airbase that is more important than the Shamsi airbase. Sheikh Rashid was speaking during the 11th Hour program of ARY TV network. The Jacobabad airport, the third largest airport in the country in terms of area, is one of the few airports in Pakistan that can be used jointly for military and commercial flight operations.

The commercial airport at Jacobabad, about 300 miles north of Karachi and 300 miles southeast of Kandahar, is located on the border between Sindh and Baluchistan provinces. Jacobabad is one of three Pakistani bases used by US and allied forces to support the Operation Enduring Freedom campaign in Afghanistan. The other bases are at Dalbandin and Pasni. Under the terms of an agreement with Pakistan, the Allied forces can use these bases for search and rescue missions, but are not permitted to use them to stage attacks on Taliban targets. Both Jacobabad and Pasni bases have been sealed off and a 5km cordon set up around the bases by Pakistani security forces. [Wikipedia]

As of mid-October 2001, it was reported that seven US C-130 cargo/troop carrying aircraft were at the airbase at Jacobabad, together with some helicopters [possibly including gunships]. The number of U.S. commandos on the base was said to have reached 200. About 250 Marines are stationed at Jacobabad for search-and-rescue missions. [Wikipedia]

Jacobabad was the scene of several protests by opponents of the US airstrikes on Afghanistan. The Jamaat-e-Islami threatened to storm the air base of Jacobabad, and police arrested dozens of the party's supporters. When Jamaat-e-Islami tried to march to the Jacobabad airfield on 14 October 2001, one person was killed and 24 people injured in clashes with police. Jamaat-e-Islam wanted to expel US personnel participating in the Operation Enduring Freedom military campaign. By late October 2001 roads to the city were blocked for days to prevent entry of protestors. But on 23 October about 200 protestors appeared in the city, and at least 100 had been arrested. [Wikipedia]

By March 2004 there were reports increased US operations in Pakistan. Two air bases -- Dalbandin and Shahbaz -- were the focus for extensive movements to provide logistical support for special forces and intelligence operations. Shahbaz Air Base near Jacobabad appeared to be the key to the US's spring offensive. At Jacobabad, C-17 transports were reportedly involved in daily deliveries of supplies. A report in the Pakistani newspaper the Daily Times [10 March 2004] claimed that the airbase was under US control, with an inner ring of facilities off-limits to Pakistan's military. [Wikipedia]

Jacobabad is the third largest airport in the country in terms of area. The Jacobabad airport is one of the few airports in Pakistan that can be used jointly for military and commercial flight operations. Also known as PAF Shahbaz, the facility is a Forward Operational Base (FOB) which would become fully operational during wartime.

Tellingly during October 2010 floods in the Sindh province, Health relief operations in Jacobabad were not possible because the airbase in the area is controlled by the US.  “Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States,” Health Secretary Khushnood Lashari told the Senate Standing Committee on Health.

“It is very unfortunate that Americans can launch a drone attack from Shahbaz airbase but the government is helpless even in using the country’s base for relief operations,” Senator Semeen said while talking to this correspondent.  She said the health ministry should have requested the army to ask the US to allow relief operation from the base.

Objectives and motives of the attack

What are the objectives and motives behind the US-led NATO attack are the topics of discussion of Pakistani media and TV talk shows since November 25th. It was argued that the attack is a strong message: Pakistan should toe US line. It should not talk to Taliban. Some observers believe that the next US-NATO attack my be deep inside the Pakistani territory.

Prof Riffat Hussain of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad told the Express TV program Sochta Pakistan that it was not a mistake but a deliberate attack. “This is a first salvo on Pakistan army to warn that if you will not take action against Haqqani network then we will come into Pakistan,” he said recalled recalled the US statements that Washington reserves the right to take unilateral action.

Ziauddin, Chief Editor of a leading newspaper, Express, was of the view that the attack was not unexpected. This was the first big and targeted attack, he added. Ziauddin of the view that it was a strategic blunder of General Musharraf to give US permission to attack on Afghanistan. He pointed out that General Musharraf has said that if we had not given permission to US to attack Afghanistan, it would have gone to India to launch attack against Afghanistan. “We are now paying price for this blunder.”

Talat Hussain anchor of Dawn TV’s Newsnight program was of the view that Memogate scandal has intensified Pakistan army’s response to the Nato attack. He also said that the army believed that the May 2 Abbottabad operation by the US forces to allegedly kill Osama bin Laden was a dress rehearsal to target Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Talat Hussain said Pakistan embassy in Washington, under Hussain Haqqani, had become an extension of White House.

Saleem Bokhari, a senior journalist, told the Dunya TV program Cross Fire, was of the view that the real US target is Pakistan’s nuclear assets. “The NATO attack is a trial balloon to gauge the extent of Pakistan’s response.”

US-Pakistan relations

The latest US-led NATO attack on Pakistani checkposts is likely to have a catastrophic effect on the Pakistan-U.S. relations strained by the alleged killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan on May 2, Pakistan's jailing of CIA contractor Davis Raymond and the U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul have added to the tensions. And also the exploding memogate scandal aimed at further subservience of Pakistan to USA.

The secret memo was drafted in Washington by Pakistan’s Ambassador Hussain Haqqani (now sacked), who dictated the text to the Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz. Both flew to London on May 10, where they met with the British Chief of Defense Staff, Sir David Richards, obtained the ‘seal of approval’ and flew back to Washington where the memo was handed over to National Security Advisor General James Jones, who delivered it to Admiral Mike Mullen. It contained the hybrid plan for regime change in Pakistan.

Besides changing the army leadership, the confidential memo pledged to put Pakistan’s nuclear assets under a verifiable regime. The memo said: “The new national security team is prepared, with full backing of the Pakistani government – initially civilian but eventually all three power centers – to develop an acceptable framework of discipline for the nuclear program. This effort was begun under the previous military regime, with acceptable results. We are prepared to reactivate those ideas and build on them in a way that brings Pakistan’s nuclear assets under a more verifiable, transparent regime.”

The discernible impact of the memo episode has resulted already in: (a) the weakening of the US-client Zardari regime’s position and (b) a further hardening of the Pakistan’s military attitude towards the government in Islamabad.

Not surprisingly, Nov 25th US-led NATO attack on the two Pakistani checkposts, killing 24 soldiers, has rallied the nation around the army and further weakened the Zardari regime which tried to control the powerful army through American backing as the confidential memo envisaged.

Pakistanis demand end to US alliance

Saturday's strikes have added to popular anger in Pakistan against the U.S.-led coalition presence in Afghanistan. Many in the army, parliament, general population and media already believed that the U.S. and NATO are hostile to Pakistan and that the Afghan Taliban are not the enemy.

Hundreds of Pakistanis called on Islamabad on Monday (Nov 27) to break off its alliance with the United States and get out of the so-called war on terror as protests against a lethal NATO strike pushed into a third day. Members of civil society, lawyers, traders and students organized the rallies, still relatively small, in major cities of the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people, where opposition to the US alliance is rampant.

Lawyers went on strike across the country, demonstrating outside court buildings, chanting slogans against NATO and the United States. In Peshawar, several hundred students blocked a main road, chanting “Death to US” and “Quit the war on terror”, according to an AFP report. Scores of tribesmen also gathered in Mohmand, the tribal district where the soldiers were killed, to protest against the attack and demand that the government change its pro-US policy.

Some 200 lawyers blocked the national highway to the east of the financial capital Karachi, chanting slogans in the favor of Pakistani army. In the central city of Multan, Jamatud Dawa, blacklisted by the United Nations as a terror group, gathered a crowd of several hundred, burning an effigy of US President Barack Obama and US flags, an AFP photographer said.

In Azad Kashmir, around 600 people in the town of Garhi Dupatta joined the relatives of a soldier killed in the attack, and chanted slogans against the US. “The government must retaliate and should suspend the relations with the US until there is a fair and free investigation,” Zafar Iqbal, 25, the brother of fallen soldier Tahir Iqbal told the AFP.

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans do not see Pakistan as a friend to the United States, says an opinion survey released on Monday. The survey, conducted on Nov 27, a day after a Nato air strike killed 25 Pakistani soldiers, asked US citizens: Do you consider Pakistan to be a friend or enemy of the United States? An enemy to the US was the choice of 55 per cent respondents. Only seven pc said they considered Pakistan a friend, 26 pc did not consider Pakistan a friend or enemy and 12 pc did not have an opinion.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.