‘In Pakistan the attack has given a weak – but broadly pro US – government the chance to bolster its nationalist credentials and reassure its public that it is no stooge of Washington. Ministers will shout and scream and express their outrage. Then, having placated the rabble rousing opposition leaders, quieted the Islamists and burnished their nationalist colors they will accept an apology and go back to taking American dollars. So too the military – And the dead soldiers having served their purpose will be forgotten, mourned only by their families.’ – Rob Crilly in The Daily Telegraph
In the aftermath of the NATO attack (detailed analysis of which has been published in this very space on 2 December, 2011), several questions have now surfaced and each in its own way tries to explain this attack that without a doubt is being seen as a landmark game changing event. An escalatory response by Pakistan could have led to very serious consequences. Pakistan is fully aware of its capabilities and limitations in what is clearly an asymmetric environment. This has raised the question that the attack was deliberate and intended to highlight the helplessness of the Pakistan military against US incursions so as to bring it under criticism from Pakistanis – part of the ‘get Pakistan military and ISI’ series. Raymond Davis, OBL, and Memogate are all slotted into the same category. There is also confusion on the status of the base – Shamsi Base – (and the UAE role in it) that the US has been asked to vacate – but facts are emerging even as the US prepares to leave the base.
The next scenario being tossed around is based on the fact that the attack was from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province – the scene of a recent transition of security responsibility to Afghan Security Forces. The idea apparently was to demonstrate US support capability to panicky Afghan National Security Forces. These forces are said to have asked for close support during some kind of operation in the area and panicked when a flare was allegedly fired by the Pakistanis to see what was going on. Also to indicate to the Pakistanis the type of post withdrawal operations that could be conducted against them if they were to try and exploit the situation. As collateral it helps secure the US-Afghan Strategic Agreement and the Pentagon’s future plans of a prolonged stay in Afghanistan that may be the real goal and part of US strategy against Russia and China and part of the ‘new Silk Road’ scenario.
A variant of this scenario has the Taliban masterminding the event by engaging the Afghan Security Forces in the vicinity of the Pakistani post thereby triggering their reaction and US/NATO response. The Taliban have had a long standing desire to see the Afghan forces fighting with the Pakistan military. Yet another variant is the desire of the Northern Alliance backed Afghan government to see the US attacking Pakistan whom they have repeatedly identified as the real enemy. The Taliban are seen by some as riddled with all sorts of intelligence operatives and therefore amenable to outside influences at a price – in fact the Pakistani Taliban are seen by some as a creation to take the war into Pakistan’s FATA and destabilise the border region for just such type of attacks.
These debates and speculations will continue. The usual pattern is that the event reaches conclusion as per the plan of the stronger side and is followed by regret and concern by the perpetrator and much chest thumping and threats by the other side. The next phase is the speculation and analysis phase – this is where we are right now, and finally comes the post event investigation and action phase to bring some sort of conclusion. This particular event is being seen as far too serious and damaging to smoothly move through these transitions unless there is genuine resolve to do this. On the US side, the response so far is that the action to stop logistics through Pakistan will have no impact on operations and that the drone attacks will continue in spite of the base closure. Russia has signaled that it would reconsider the US use of the Northern Distribution Network as part of its response to a US Missile Shield in Europe. This highlights the fact that US strategy depends on logistics outside its control – a fatal strategic flaw.
As the DCC statement has clearly stated Pakistan has to review its response options and it does not actually have to declare the chosen option, and it has to review the entire spectrum of its relationship with the US. Pakistan has also stated that it will not participate in the Bonn Conference though there are indications that a lower level participation may be there. Strategic talks already interrupted cannot deliver unless this event is out of the way – nor will track two interactions help at this stage. The question of US aid and other transactional matters will have to be separated and each other’s policies clearly stated. Perhaps a more balanced relationship will finally emerge but the message for Pakistan from this incident is clear – ALL its institutions must come together to develop internal strength and nothing should distract Pakistan from this goal.
The US failure in Afghanistan has led to an ethnic divide there that will play out once US/ISAF have left and the Taliban reassert for a political role. The Northern Alliance backed the US will not be able to avert a civil war unless there is political reconciliation because the Taliban represent the Pashtuns. Pakistan’s role is critical and the drivers behind its strategic options need to be understood. The US needs an unbiased, objective and acceptable interlocutor for interaction with Pakistan.
Spearhead Research is a private centre for research and consultancy on security, headed by Jehangir Karamat. Spearhead analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual.