Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is the Army Backtracking?

Things have changed dramatically in Pakistan, and they are still changing as we write our latest blog. The reason for the change was the misadventure by NATO forces on 26th November, also known as Salala Incident. Sensing the situation and Pakistan Army's rigidity, US had few options but to comply with the orders as US saw a rare agreement between the civilian government and the military establishment of Pakistan over the issue.

The Salala Incident did change things dramatically with Army calling the shots on issues pertaining to supply route to Afghanistan via Pakistan and more importantly, retaliatory orders to the check-post without the chain-of-command's approval in case of an incursion or attack on Pakistani soils by foreign forces. The Incident also toughened the stance of the military towards drone attacks which had become a source of depression for the nation where it found its army's inability or down-right slavery for not being able to bring down the drones. Much to the delight of the nation, the army – along with the civilian government, both on the same footing – blocked the supply route of US goods into Afghanistan, ordered to bring down drones that trespass into Pakistan and vacation of Shamsi Airbase which was once, according to well-placed sources and a few satellite images, used as base to carry out drone attacks on Al Qaeda/Taliban fighters in Pakistan and along the border.

The other issue that caught up the attention of the entire world, though it was necessarily Pakistan's internal matter, was the Memogate Scandal which saw the former US Ambassador Hussain Haqqani resign from his post and then tried in Pakistan's apex court on charges of treason on the basis of evidences provided by a dubious Pakistani-origin US businessman, Mansoor Ijaz. The case got the military interested and it got involved in the mess where it was even blamed by the civilian government to be giving directives to the Supreme Court.

Now though, in a little more than two months’ time things are seemingly back to normal, or so they suggest to be.

Last week, Hussain Haqqani's name was crossed out from the Exit Control List (ECL), thereby allowing him to travel abroad, which he did, to US. According to reports and experts, this couldn't have been possible without the Army giving the green signal to the court to allow Hussain Haqqani to leave the country, or in other words flee Pakistan. There is a sense that Army backtracked from its initial position against a person charged against high level of treason against Pakistan. And it can be easily guessed now that the likelihood of Hussain Haqqani's return to Pakistan is as bleak as having sun and moon together in the skyline.

If this was not enough, then we also saw an end of a dry-spell of nearly two-months long where Pakistan didn't had a single drone attack on its territory. The drought ended on 10th January which killed four people in N. Wazirstan and right after that on 11th January which killed at least eight people near the Pak-Afghan border. In the haste to cover up the drone attack, the Pakistan intelligence tried unsuccessfully to break the news of Hakimullah Mehsud's death in the drone attack, which was immediately refuted by Tehrik-e-Taliban. Last week there was a report that another unmanned drone fired a missile to kill nearly thirteen people in N. Wazirstan, however now the news is that it was a Pakistani jet-fighter instead of a US drone. Nevertheless, thirteen people died which are yet to be identified in what is said to have been the victims of three missiles that were fired by the airborne vehicle.

The other news that has seen the weakening of the resolve of the Army towards the US is according various sources that Pakistan is contemplating of opening the Chaman border that was closed after the Salala Incident. It may entirely be subject to rumours and guess-work but it certainly can't be impossible, especially given the history of the relationship the two countries share, much to the displeasure of the people of the two countries.

In the recent Memogate turmoil, little attention was given to the changes in the terms of engagement between Pakistan and United States when it comes to War against Terrorism. The changes were proposed to Prime Minister Gillani till second week of January and were yet to be finalised. One of the clauses of the terms were that US would be providing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which was argued to be in exchange of reopening the supply route but was quickly refuted by the Foreign Minister Khar, however, there is every possibility of such a deal between the two countries.

Furthermore, Pakistan heavily relies on US, as US is still the biggest supplier of arms to Pakistan even when relationship between the two countries are at their lowest ebb. The threat also looms over Pakistan that the US Congress may suspend every monetary assistance setting back a flailing economy and a large military to look after.

The shutting off the supply route was merely to give a message out to the world and emphasise its importance in this pointless War on Terrorism, which is completely to the contrary to the feelings of Pakistani people had when they heard news of the supply route being closed. They saw the closure of the supply route as a mean of revenge, instead of a message to the world.

It is obvious in Pakistan that the military establishment still holds a powerful position in policy-making of the country, therefore it can ill-afford to distant itself too far from US where Pakistan has to fight militancy and keep in check the threat from its eastern border. The back-peddling of the Army may be understandable on diplomacy level, but it shouldn't forget that it may open more doors of instability and hostility from its own people which may result in blood-spilling civil war in the country. The Army does find itself in a precarious situation, but one has to be honest that it is of their own making when they opted to decide the fate of the country behind closed doors without taking its people into confidence.

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