Written 29 Nov 2011..Published 06 Dec 2011 in GEO NEWS BLOG
Admittedly, a very steep price has been paid for altering the perception with the lives of more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers who perished in an ISAF attack on 26 November 2011. Yet, even in a straightforward case like this – and no one contests the border violation – even when Pakistan is the wounded party – and it was – opinion makers continually challenge its credibility. Somehow we are culpable. Somewhere, we have sinned. The only facts undisputed in this scenario are that ISAF was involved and Pakistan suffered heavy causalities. The rest is a garbled blend of speculation, innuendo, and strategically applied whitewash.
Despite local resistance to the idea of a blunder, fratricide is easier to rationalize than voluntary manslaughter. A massacre of the kind that occurred that day may not have much justification in Pakistan’s eyes but it does have precedence. In Operation Medusa 2006 two US A-10 Thunderbolts accidentally strafed NATO forces in Afghanistan. A British convoy mistook Afghan police for Taliban insurgents and called in a US air strike. Human error remains a factor, advancements in technology notwithstanding. Military men chalk it up to ‘fog of war’ and when they do the term used is involuntary manslaughter; the perpetrators are charged with criminal negligence and appropriate action is taken.
Through their own assertion this has been the ‘deadliest’ border violation to date; other foreign media outlets classify it as their ‘costliest mistake’. The sudden switch from ‘friendly fire’ to ‘self defence’ abruptly changes that narrative in favour of NATO. The ambiguity surrounding the incident makes it possible for the stakeholders to seek the nearest most convenient exit from what is in fact an untenable position. Afghan Special Forces called for NATO air support after reportedly coming under fire from the Pakistani side of the border. That NATO refused to heed the Pak Army’s pleas and persisted with the attack for one and a half hour is worrisome.
If ISAF & Afghan forces were lured into a fire fight by Taliban – as some papers now claim, then their decision to continue the attack shows how much the lines between enemy combatants and allied forces have blurred. When it comes to drone attacks against alleged HVT’s (High Value Target) many accept the argument of collateral damage however grudgingly because these are the undeniable side effects of war. Granted that from the air every moving object is a potential target and fire fight situations are ripe for errors. Nevertheless, the failure to pull back in time meant that the soldiers on the Pakistani side who were caught off guard did not stand a chance against the incoming fire. It is easier to forgive a mistake than to ignore a cover-up and till the results of the investigation come in; the latter story will fuel our frenzied imagination.
And yet none of the above actions imply that the cooperation is over. The Pak-US relationship runs on deception, distrust and disenchantment – especially on the public front. Privately Pakistan provides implicit support for drone strikes within its territory and has developed a high threshold for international meddling. This is why Pak military does not take on the intruders from the Western borders and pools its intelligence sharing apparatus. This is why the coordinates of the Pakistani check post that came under attack by ISAF were likely shared with the allied counterparts; to avoid the risk of fratricide. That the partnership has survived Osama, Raymond Davis and most recently, Admiral Mullen’s disdain for his Pakistani counterparts speaks for its resilience. And the high cost incurred in keeping it running – well that just gives grist to the ever efficient anti American mill.
Dedicated to the Martyrs of Pakistan’s 26/11
Image courtesy of: http://pakistanmediawatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Shamsi-Airbase.jpg