In an unusual gathering at the Presidency on Monday, Pakistan’s top civilian and military leaders resolved to protect the country’s sovereignty at all costs while deciding that the US would not be given permission to carry out unilateral military actions on Pakistani soil in future.
In the backdrop of mounting tension with the US, Pakistani leaders, including the president, the prime minister, all services chiefs and other top military commanders, decided to hold a crucial meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in the chair.
They also decided to convey to Washington in clear terms that the drone attacks by the CIA in the Tribal Areas must be stopped forthwith as anguish and disdain against these assaults and anti-Americanism in the country had reached alarming levels. Before this meeting, the top military brass also held a very crucial meeting of the corps commanders a few days ago in which it was decided that the military relations with the US would be reassessed.
It was during the corps commanders’ meeting that Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani asked for diversion of US military assistance towards the civilian side to support Pakistan’s economy already confronting serious crises. General Kayani’s demand, however, was a clear reflection of the army’s displeasure over increasing US pressure on Islamabad for allowing American operations against terrorists on Pakistani soil and also that the Pakistan Army launch a full-fledged military operation in North Waziristan.
“The meeting at the Presidency was attended by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wynne, Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman and Defence Secretary Lt Gen (r) Athar Ali,” said an official statement. The statement restricted itself to saying that the security situation was discussed during the meeting.
However, it was held primarily to review the serious situation arising out of increasing tension with the US over a host of issues, and on how to tackle these challenges while keeping in view the repercussions of various steps to be taken on political, economic and defence fronts vis-à-vis the ties with Washington in the coming days.
Officials privy to the meeting said the top level consultations took place in the wake of CIA chief Leon Panetta’s recent visit to Islamabad in which he met General Kayani and ISI chief Lt General Shuja Pasha and placed before them a list of very tough demands, including permission to the US spy agency to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban top leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Siraj Haqqani on Pakistani soil.
Panetta also asked for purging Pakistani intelligence agencies of pro-Taliban militants, the meeting at the Presidency was told. But the country’s top leadership was apprised that the CIA chief was clearly told that there was no collaboration between the militants and personnel of the ISI and other Pakistani agencies and such allegations by Washington would further damage the Pakistan-US relations.
An official said Pakistani leaders also endorsed the decision of the military command to ask the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan that was reportedly used by the CIA for drone attacks in North Waziristan and other Tribal Areas.
The military commanders told the meeting that the US military authorities and the CIA chief had been told that an operation in North Waziristan would be carried out when Pakistan believed it was inevitable.
Another official privy to the high-level consultations said one important matter that was deliberated upon during the meeting was to improve the level of existing coordination between the armed forces including the army, the air force and the navy and also their collaboration with the civilian law enforcement agencies.
“The meeting discussed the recent attack on Mehran naval base and May 2 US forces’ special operation in Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden and in that context the civilian and military leaders agreed that there is a need to improve the level of coordination not only among the armed forces but also with the civilian security organizations,” he said.
He said the military commanders present in the meeting expressed displeasure over what they said was uncalled criticism against them by some political quarters in the country and urged the government to take steps to neutralise the anti-armed forces’ propaganda as the army, the air force and the navy too were its organs like other institutions and bodies.