New crisis for US-Pakistan relations

The latest episode in the so-called “war on terror” has provoked anger and disbelief not only from the population of Pakistan, but also amongst the military officials. On Sunday, Pakistan buried 24 troops killed in a NATO cross-border air attack. This has intensified a crisis in relations between United States imperialism and its erstwhile ally, Pakistan.

Despite needing this ally in order to combat Islamic fundamentalist militancy, the crisis is heading towards a rupture in relations. Tensions are visibly high and tempers are flaring.

The Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DDC) met on Saturday evening and issued a strongly worded statement. This committee consists of all the three service chiefs including the army chief of staff, Prime Minister and all the most important ministers. The DDC took the following decisions:

  • To close NATO’s transits routes through Pakistani territory with immediate effect.
  • To ask the US to vacate Shamsi airbase (in Baluchistan province) within 15 days.
  • To revisit and undertake a complete review of all programmes, activities and cooperative arrangements with US, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), including in diplomatic, political and intelligence areas.
  • To announce shortly a whole range of further measures apropos Pakistan’s future cooperation with the US, NATO and ISAF.

The response stops short of declaring the end of Pakistan’s participation in the US led war in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan is within inches of doing that. At this stage, Pakistan might not formally announced its’ withdrawal from the US led “war on terror” but it will certainly reduce cooperation and impose more conditions. The public mood in Pakistan is overwhelmingly in favour of breaking with the US and breaking from the so-called “war on terror”. Anti American sentiments are running very high. No political party will even attempt to openly give the impression that it is siding with US imperialism. Even well known pro-American parties can not now come out openly before the masses and support of US.

The federal cabinet has formally approved the decisions made in the DDC meeting on Saturday. The government has also announced it will call a joint session of the parliament to discuss the issue. The government has announced its’ boycott of the Bonn conference on Afghanistan in Germany.

Relations between Pakistan and the US are currently at there lowest levels. The strong reaction from the military and civilian government might have surprised both NATO and US. The US may have seriously miscalculated if its’ intention on Saturday morning was to draw the Pakistani military into a retaliatory mode and then to hit it with a sledgehammer and make it crawl on its knees pleading for mercy.

Things are not going to develop in that way. The Pakistani military leadership is traditionally cautious and it is not going to unleash a military response to the American provocation. But the Taliban and other militant groups are there to keep attacking the US and NATO troops.

Television stations showed the coffins of the soldiers draped in national flags in a prayer ceremony at the corps’ headquarters in Peshawar attended by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani. Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan – used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s land shipments – in retaliation for the worst such attack since Islamabad un-easily allied itself with Washington following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Pakistan on Monday denied provoking NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and refused to accept expressions of regret over the cross-border attack. While rejecting NATO claims that Pakistani forces initiated the attack, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director, General Major General Athar Abbas said, “NATO forces should present proof if they were claiming that the firing was started from the Pakistani side.”

Talking to a private television channel he said, “No fire was opened from our side and we responded only after the martyrdom of our soldiers.” Pakistans’ military has been handed a rare opportunity to press its strategic ambitions in neighbouring Afghanistan after a cross-border NATO attack that killed 24 of its soldiers over the weekend.

Fury over the incident at home, where anti-American sentiment runs high, makes it likely that the army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the civilian government will play hardball with their ostensible ally, the United States.

Lawyers anti-NATO demo in Lahore, 1 December

The Pakistani military is clearly very angry at the turn of events and the army’s high command is under tremendous pressure from middle-ranking and junior officers to react. Anti American feeling in Pakistan is clearly visible in the higher levels of the state institutions and becoming institutionalised. There is strong feeling in the military that the US is consciously trying to bring the Afghan war into Pakistan and more precisely into the troubled tribal areas. As the current phase of the conflict in Afghanistan appears to be drawing to a close with the planned troop reductions by the US and NATO coming to a close, the tensions between Pakistan and the US will continue to rise.

It is very clear that there are strategic differences between both countries regarding the future course of Afghanistan. The US wants full cooperation from Pakistan to bring the Taliban and other militant groups to the negotiating table to strike a peace deal with them before leaving Afghanistan. The US complains that Pakistan is not fully cooperating and instead is supporting the Taliban. On the other hand, Pakistan wants clear terms of engagement and a greater role in Afghanistan following a US withdrawal. Pakistan is complaining that anti Pakistani forces have been given greater say in the Afghan government and that Afghan territory has been used to destabilize Pakistan. These allegations and counter allegations are not new but during the last year they have dramatically intensified.

This pressure will drive the military to flex its muscles in diplomatic manoeuvring with Washington in the run-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Indeed, on Monday, the military’s spokesman threatened to drastically reduce cooperation on the peace efforts in Afghanistan, which could complicate US President Barack Obama’s plans to bring the war there to an end.

Analysts said Pakistan will seek concessions from the United States as its price for Saturday’s attack, in which NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan, close to the Afghan border. The concessions are likely to include giving Pakistan a greater say in the political settlement to end the war that would cement a role for Islamabad’s allies in a future Kabul government.

“From the military’s point of view, here is a perfect opportunity to try to go on the offensive for a change,” said Kamran Bokhari, vice president for Middle Eastern and South Asian affairs at STRATFOR, an US-based intelligence consultancy. “The Pakistanis are going to lay their terms out,” Bokhari said. “They’re going to say ... whatever you’re doing on that side of the border, we need more input into that and you need us to get you out of there and provide a safe exit.”

This border incident is the latest in a year of growing conflict between Islamabad and Washington. First there was the jailing of a CIA contractor for shooting dead two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore. Then there was the secret US commando raid inside Pakistan that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and then came US accusations that Pakistan was involved in attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s room for manoeuvre is usually limited by its mutually dependent relationship with Washington. It has been dependent on Washington’s financial aid and military support.

The US led war in Afghanistan has not only made Afghanistan more unstable, volatile and problematic but also spread the war into Pakistan. The 10 years of war has brought destruction, poverty and miseries for the working people of both the countries. NATO and the US have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this occupation, war and destruction. This money was enough to entirely rebuild Afghanistan and to provide education, health, jobs, and decent living standards to the millions of poverty stricken Afghan people. The amount spent on this war was even enough to drastically reduce poverty in the South Asian region.

The presence of imperialist forces in the region and especially in Afghanistan is the cause of massive destabilization in the region. NATO and the US must immediately pull out their forces from Afghanistan and the region. The masses in Afghanistan have the right to decide the future course of their country. Pakistan, and the other regional powers or the US should not be allowed to impose any decisions or so-called solutions or agreements on the Afghan masses.

There is no future for masses and the working class on a capitalist basis. The problems faced by the masses in Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. A government of the working people and the poor with a revolutionary socialist programme is the way forward. Peace, prosperity and stability can only be brought through Socialism. Capitalism is the system of war, poverty, repression and destruction, so it must be brought to an end to make our world a better place to live.

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