Skip to main content

VIEW: A Base for an Eye

Written 29 Nov 2011..Published 06 Dec 2011 in GEO NEWS BLOG

This week’s episode of ‘Homeland’ (TV serial) bears remarkable resemblance to events that transpired halfway across the world along the Durand line. In the drama, civilians are accidentally shot by officers while in pursuit of a wanted suspect and though there are witnesses who can testify to the contrary, the official story insists that the suspect fired first. In real life, ISAF led by Afghan Special Forces in hot pursuit of insurgents mowed down a Pakistani check post eerily echoes that very claim regarding the predawn raid which, were it not for their statement, reinforces Pakistan’s image as a wronged partner instead of the usual ‘janus-faced’ ally.

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.

It may be too soon to rush to judgement but not too soon to take a stand. Pakistan does not have much leverage left at this point. As many head off to lodge their protest at NATO’s facebook page, the state has demanded the return of Shamsi base and suspension of NATO bound oil supply for the proverbial ‘Eye’. Owned by UAE and used for mounting predator strikes till 2003, the strategic importance of Shamsi is now called into question and analysts no longer consider this air field as a primary launch pad for drone attacks. They believe that the allied show is poised to go on with or without Shamsi. UAE’s demand on the other hand, that the Americans be allowed to continue the use of the base is ill timed. And presumptuous. And a little bit insulting.

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.

America’s crusade and Pakistan’s jihad supposedly run on parallel tracks but are motivated by a different endgame. It is highly probable it will survive the recent allied adventurism. And when it does, the rules of engagement on both levels (political & military) must be reassessed. But even under different parameters, the core philosophy remains the same – the annihilation of extremism in all its forms. Pakistani’s who have relegated the United States to the enemy camp should not forget that ‘enemy of thine enemy’ (Taliban/Al Qaeda) is still an enemy no matter whose banner it claims to carry. Americans who openly question their ally’s commitment and frequently write off its losses (both civilian and military) need to watch where they are going. This alliance, bruised, battered or busted and badly mishandled on both sides may be the only thing keeping them on track for the scheduled exist strategy.

Dedicated to the Martyrs of Pakistan’s 26/11

Image courtesy of:


Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

FILM REVIEW: West Bank Story a live-action short film (2007)

Published in The POST May 17, 2007

Directed by:Ari Sandel
Written by: Kim Ray and Ari Sandel
Duration: 21 Minutes
(An official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival)

The Middle East is better known for staging violent uprisings, certainly not for inspiring comedic masterpieces.

Since 1967, the West bank has spawned a surge in Arab hostility, frequent visits to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice and lately, a small little inspirational musical comedy about competing falafel stands, directed, co-written and produced by Ari Sandel (part Israeli, part American Californian native). Since there is no easy way to represent both sides fairly, the very notion of West Bank Story is greeted with a justifiable mix of scepticism, wariness and resentment at first. No doubt, it is a precarious balancing act that mandates such a film to be witty without being offensive, show compassion without discrimination and entertain without losing substance. So does West Bank Story deliver?

West Bank Story

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Sunset — The Rise & Fall of the Lahore Durbar Author: Amarinder Singh

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times under the heading: Lahore Durbar in free fall

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

After the Mughals exited, but before the British arrived, the Lahore Durbar was presided over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur, affectionately known as the ‘Lion of Lahore’, who makes a brief appearance in Amarinder Singh’s narrative, but leaves a lasting impression on his history.

Ranjit Singh, who has been described in the book as a great man and an outstanding military commander, was a mass of contradictions. For instance, he was against the death penalty but not averse to robbing widows, believed treaties were meant to be broken but treated the vanquished with kindness, and thought nothing of inviting guests only to divest them of their most prized possession — like the Kohinoor diamond. He may have spent the better part of the day leading military campaigns, yet he did not always harbour territorial designs and is said to have waged a war on hi…

BOOK REVIEW: How It Happened

Published in Daily Times / Sat 9 Feb 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Shazaf Fatima Haider

Thanks to Liberty Books for the (temp) review copy

Gwendolen: I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . .”
The Importance of being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)

Characters chasing ‘happily ever after’s’ are often pulled aside by enterprising elders who try to flag all but the most traditional road to the altar. A fiendishly funny narrative pounces on the retreating figure of Cupid and explores his cultural relevance in the sport they call match-making.

The saga of the Bandian clan comes with a perpetually scandalized, formidable old lady fiercely protective…

OP-ED: Fashion Week – More Than A Pretty Footnote

First Published in Economic Affairs June 2013 Issue

‘Artists are the gatekeeper of truth. We are civilizations radical voice’. Paul Robeson

There was a conference on counter-terrorism underway in Hyderabad as fashion week was winding down in Lahore. One of the presenters, a Dutch with a Phd and a thesis on the effects of fear on social behavior had indicated resilience as part of the counter-terrorism strategy. ‘We had a fashion show, does that count?’ I later asked Dr. Mark Dechesne who was in town recently. If he was startled, he did not show it.

Two things have been trending on twitter since April 2013. Fashion week finds itself in the same time slot as politics and as politicians perfect their strut on the political ramp, the fashionistas have taken to the red carpet and designer-wear floods the catwalk. Though fear overshadows both events, people refuse to let the claustrophobic environment dictate their social calendar.

The famed fashion week which started from Karachi and co…

OP-ED: Stargazing at the Awards

Published in Daily Times / 11 Apr 2014

So which one of them is Pakistani?
Some of us were having a hard time putting a name to the music.
All of them,’ said the person sitting next to us, a little reproachfully.
The musical performances? oh that, none of them, he said cheerfully.
He did not seem shocked.

We had gathered that day to witness the 2nd Servis HUM Awards, celebrate the showbiz industry with its requisite fashion parades and indulge in some star gazing at the EXPO Centre, Karachi.

The show had been designed to honour the best of Pakistani music, fashion, film, and of course television. Guests glided across the hall in awe of the décor (flawless) and set pieces (stunning) while keeping an eagle eye on the red carpet for a Fawad Khan or Hamza Ali Abbasi sighting (rare).

Timely adverts running on OSN ensured that a regional audience awaited the telecast with bated breath along-side the rest of HUM fans. The ceremony was not LIVE but Twitter would be abuzz with activity e…

STYLE: A ‘Haute’ Ticket Item

Published in Daily Times Pakistan (Entertainment Section) / 26 Oct 2013

Your talent will get you far, but your passion will get you further” – Tabassaum

Bath island - turns out, not really an island; it is a place where one can find, among other things Tabassum Mughal’s outlet and her shiny new salon. Her signature piece was featured in Bridal Couture 2013 (BCW) earlier this year. Her collection was later seen on London’s runway. And a bewitched crowd now circles her new line for Eid, drawn by a certainty that behind the closed doors lay the proverbial ‘one’.

They are not wrong. As she unveils a new vision of silk & satin to the world, there will be a constant embedded in that impeccable fashion statement. She has achieved a wonderful hybrid harvested from the rich heritage and decadent flavors that define our poorly misunderstood region.

The person in-charge of these creative coups can be seen flitting in and out of the situation room – otherwise known as the exhibit…