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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Towards reopening Tourkhum Route: Yes or No?

By: Yasmeen Ali   

On October 7 the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization military allies began the tenth year of their war in Afghanistan, over 3,000 miles from NATO Headquarters in Brussels. As the U.S. delivered its 20th deadly drone missile attack of the month inside Pakistan on the 27th, five times the amount launched in August and the most in any month since they were started in 2004, NATO conducted a series of attacks with helicopter gunships in Northwest Pakistan. Claiming the “right of self-defense” and in “hot pursuit” of insurgents that had reportedly attacked a NATO camp, Combat Outpost Narizah, in Afghanistan’s Khost province near the Pakistani border, this past weekend NATO attack helicopters conducted two forays into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where U.S. drone strikes have killed a record number of people this month.
Estimates of those killed, dutifully referred to in the Western press as insurgents, militants or terrorists, were 30, then 50, afterward 60, 70 and later “82 or higher.” The death toll in Pakistan this month is well over 200 and for this year to date over 2,000. The justification for this carnage offered by the U.S. and NATO is that it is intended to extend the policy of Barack Obama to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” insurgent networks in Afghanistan into Pakistan, supposedly the sooner to end the war.
However, should situation be reversed, will the USA allow Pakistan or any other country for that matter to take the same action and launch attacks, killing thousands of men, women And children, not to speak of Armed Force personnel in the name of” collateral damage”?
Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister for Pakistan, was forced to denounce the attacks in face of mounting public rage against these gross violations and anger at a weak government unable to defend the borders of the sovereign state.
Most of the time, the government has turned a blind eye to the atrocities, in spite of repeated news by the media of damage done by the drones on Pakistan soil. Not any more.  Public anger mounts at both the attackers and the inept and corrupt government of Zardari which has failed on all fronts to deliver on it’s promise at elections.
As a result of this anger, NATO trucks have been torched and burnt to ashes by angry gunmen- who see the government failing to register a complaint with the relevant authorities and for once, see justice done.
Gareth Porter, renowned historical investigative journalist, in his article, published by IPS News, states,” The crisis in U.S.-Pakistani relations was the result of a decision by the Obama administration – which press reports suggest was on the basis of a strong recommendation from Petraeus – to act much more aggressively and unilaterally if the Pakistani military did not do more to attack militant groups in North Waziristan, especially the Haqqani group, which dominates the successful insurgency in eastern Afghanistan.”.
He further states,” One element of the decision was to increase drone strikes in Waziristan dramatically to an unprecedented 22 in September – more than four times the average number in the previous six months. In the past, the United States had gotten permission from the Pakistani government for specific geographic “boxes” in which drone strikes could be carried out, as revealed in “Obama’s War” by Bob Woodward.
Evidently that was not done, however, before the sudden dramatic increase in drone strikes in September.
The second element was to carry out at a series of cross- border helicopter gunship attacks in Pakistan that were not cleared in advance with the Pakistani military.” UNQUOTE.
US forces pursued the Taliban into Pakistan “after following the proper rules of engagement under inherent right of self defense,” Master Sergeant Matthew Summers, an ISAF spokesman, told The Long War Journal on Sept. 26.
But a spokesman at Pakistan’s Foreign Office rejected reports that such an agreement between ISAF and Pakistan exists, and said the incursions are a violation ISAF’s mandate.
DAWN Newspaper, reported on 9th October 2010 that a principled stand has been taken by the Pakistan Government to reopen the Torkhum route.
Note that roughly 80% of NATO supplies pass through the Pakistan route and is vital for strategic interests of the NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, the Pakistan Government has kept the Chaman, linking Baluchistan and Kandahar route open for the NATO supplies and has not completely closed off the supply line.
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson has apologized on behalf of the American people for killing of Pakistani paratroopers in a cross-border raid by NATO helicopters on September 30th. But is that enough? If USA can send Dr Afia Siddiqi to jail for 86 years owing to the alleged attempt on the lives of US soldiers, should those directly responsible for the death of Pakistani paratroopers get off scot free after rendering a grudging apology? USA would do well to understand the anger by the Pakistanis on this show of  double standards and injustice.   
Unless and until, NATO takes a firm action on ground against those responsible, public anger in Pakistan shall not be appeased. Worse attacks on NATO trucks can be expected. According to Reuters, up to 40 trucks of supplies have been burnt by angry gunmen. Can the unpopular government of Asif Ali Zardari sustain the onslaught of public anger? Can Zardari’s government convince NATO to take a firm action against those responsible?
USA’s policies are clearly destabilizing Pakistan. A destabilized Pakistan will destabilize the Region. Can the USA afford this in face of their aim to vacate Afghanistan soon? The Think Tanks in USA must reevaluate their strategies for this part of the world. The United States must also take into account the diplomatic repercussions of such ill advised actions besides the dramatic increase in anti American sentiments in Pakistanis.

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