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If NATO wants to Broaden the War Theatre does it have the body bags?

October 1, 2010 Leave a comment

If NATO wants to Broaden the War Theatre does it have the body bags?

  • At least 27 tankers carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan were destroyed at a fuel station in southern Pakistan, an official said Friday.
  • It was unclear whether the attack was linked to a NATO airstrike Thursday at a border post in Khurram Agency along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in which three Pakistani troops died, the BBC said.
  • Pakistan has formally lodged protest with NATO over airstrikes in its tribal region, which Thursday also killed three soldiers, officials said on Friday.
  • “Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani met the Deputy Secretary General of NATO in Brussels to lodge protest over the border violations by NATO/ISAF helicopters,” Pakistani Embassy in Brussels said.
  • Most people in Pakistan’s tribal regions strongly oppose U.S. missile strikes in their territory, with nearly half believing they kill mainly civilians, according to a rare opinion poll that may raise doubts about a key plank of the Obama administration’s anti-terror strategy.
  • Nearly nine of 10 people surveyed opposed the U.S. taking action against militants in the tribal belt.

Following the unwarranted missile firing by two NATO helicopters on Pakistani army posts in Kurram agency Waziristan, the situation has taken a very ugly and ominous turn. In what they claim as hot pursuit option of the militants, the NATO air force has arrogated itself the right to target even the Pakistani soldiers fighting on Pakistani soil in what ostensibly is NATO and American war.

While this is outright an egregious provocation, it lends a new grave dimension to the anti terrorism alliance between Pakistan and America a new bizarre twist. For Pakistan, there are two choices. She should either bear with this disgrace and willingly agree to be killed and come under wanton aerial bombing by the chasing NATO bombers or retaliate in a befitting manner. Being a world class and one of the finest armies, it would be difficult for Pakistan army command to swallow this insult and affront that could be repeated time and again.

The second course would be to withdraw, the Pakistan army from the embattled frontier and tribal regions to allow the NATO troops to deal with the insurgents directly. It is important to do so because NATO and particularly America is bent upon dealing severe blows to the insurgents and Taliban no matter it amounts to grave and naked violation of the territorial integrity of a country which is rendering huge sacrifices by fighting a proxy war for the foreign occupation forces stationed in Afghanistan. It is highly improbable that if NATO cannot succeed in a limited area of Afghanistan, how it can cope with a larger terrain.

Yet it clearly demonstrates that America and NATO are embracing a new strategy in their war again the militants in which the demarcation of boundaries and sanctity of the land do not hold any prominence. By that token, it would not be naïve to speculate that if the border regions of Pakistan can be bombed and intruded either by land or by air, the remaining territory of Pakistan can also be treated as a war zone for chasing the miscreants because there is every possibility of fleeing Taliban to spread across the land of Pakistan. Thus, they can also launch their forays against the NATO forces and retreat to save havens and sanctuaries interspersed all over Pakistan.

This overly alarming development has the seeds of pitting the two allies against each other. The Pakistan army’s top brass must be emergently seized of the freakish and sinister turn of the events and the changing paradigm of fighting and the latest tactics of the NATO forces for counter-terrorism. Hopefully, Pakistan army’s command would be able to persuade the NATO commanders not to indulge in such insane violations,, highly questionable conduct and desperate maneuvers that can deal a fatal blow to the cooperation between Pakistan and NATO in combating terrorism.

While Pakistan army would be mulling over the next step and is believed to be in consultation, it is laudable that the NATO supplies have been suspended by Pakistan as retaliation to this fiasco.

If NAT O does not have the requisite intelligence that can differentiate between friends and foes and militants and the Pakistan army personnel, then this negligence assumed very intriguing dimensions. In the future too, every time the NATO bombers can cross over to Pakistan’s territory, indiscriminately shell the Pakistani soldiers, and then justify it as an act of self-defense. The logic of self-defense is tenable if Pakistan forces infiltrate all the way into the Afghan territory and attack the NATO troops. This is not self-defense and there is no precedent that you can trespass the terrain of a friendly country without giving prior information based on proper and credible intelligence.

The hamstrung government run by the spineless and titular rulers in Pakistan does not have enough courage and dignity to order shooting down the intruding aircrafts or helicopter gunships. If the invaders do not observe any rules of the game then why should Pakistan be imposed with an explanation which is downright audacious, unconvincing and an open declaration for doing such violations even for the future.

The crossing of the international borders and firing upon an outpost of the Frontier Corps located 200 meters (650 feet) inside Pakistan is either a sign of desperation or willful attempt to give the message that NATO can extend its operations to the Pakistani territory. According to a Pakistan army spokesperson, Troops present at the post manned by six soldiers “retaliated through rifle fire to indicate that the helicopters were crossing into our territory,”. “Instead of heading to the warning, helicopters went to fire two missiles, destroying the post. As a result, three FC soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom) and three have been injured.”

These patently provocative actions would erode whatever the support and sympathy America and her NATO allies have at the moment in the tribal regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Perhaps as a retaliation that brazen misadventure by the NATO gunships, the NATO containers were torched at Shiakpur Pakistan emanating a clear yet a portentous message that if such acts are repeated these can have their detrimental reactions in Pakistan’s mainland and perhaps elsewhere.

If United States thinks that the Pakistan’s territory should also be envisaged as the war theatre, a scenario that can prompt Pakistan to withdraw her troops from these war areas to leave the embattled terrain open to NATO and the insurgents, then it can be a good riddance by Pakistan army, fighting under duress. Or else Pakistan army can shoot down the intruding gunships, fight the land troops if these enter Pakistan’s territory and drive away or bring down drones by firing missiles at them.

This very horrendous projected situation neither suits Pakistan nor NATO and America. It would be, therefore, better if NATO leaves the military operations in the Pakistan’s territory to Pakistan army. They can continue focusing on Afghanistan as they are doing now. Pakistan indeed is a scapegoat in this so-called war against terrorism but there is a limit to find faults with such a trustworthy, competent, and brave ally as the Pakistan army is. October 1, 2010, Upright Opinion, Does NATO want to Broaden the War Theatre? By Saeed Qureshi.

(The writer is a freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)

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  • President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday said that the Government of Pakistan strongly disapproves any incident of violation of its sovereignty and any violation of internationally agreed principles was counter-productiveand unacceptable.
  • The president made these remarks during a meeting with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who called on him at the Aiwan-e-Sadr on Thursday.
  • Panetta also separately met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani at the PM House and the General Headquarters respectively.
  • Gunmen in southern Pakistan on Friday torched more than two dozen trucks and tankers carrying supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan, police said.
  • Attacks on trucks carrying goods for US and Nato-led forces are routine.

NATO Expands Afghan War Into Pakistan

September 30, 2010 1 comment

On October 7 the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization military allies will begin the tenth year of their war in Afghanistan, over 3,000 miles from NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

The following month midterm elections will be held in the U.S. and NATO will hold a two-day summit in Portugal. The American administration is eager to achieve, or appear to have achieved, a foreign policy triumph in an effort to retain Democratic Party control of the Congress and NATO something to show for the longest and largest military mission in its 61 years of existence.

President Barack Obama has tripled the amount of American combat troops in Afghanistan to 100,000 and along with forces from other NATO member states and partner nations there are now over 150,000 foreign troops in the nation, the most ever stationed in the war-wracked country. 120,000 of those soldiers are now under the command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the most ever serving in a North Atlantic Alliance-led military operation. NATO Kosovo Force at its peak had 50,000 troops, but they entered the Serbian province after an almost three-month air war had ended.

The 120,000 NATO forces currently in theater – from 50 nations already with more pegged to provide troops – are at the center of the world’s longest-lasting and increasingly deadly hot war. NATO’s first ground war, its first combat operations in Asia.

Last year was the most lethal for the U.S and NATO in what is now a nine-year conflict and this year has already proven even more costly in terms of combat deaths. And there are three more months to go.

Washington and Brussels could decide to save face and end the fighting through some combination of an internal political settlement and a true international peacekeeping arrangement – rather than the subversion of the International Security Assistance Force that was established by a United Nations mandate in December of 2001 but which is now the Pentagon’s and NATO’s vehicle for waging war in Afghanistan. And in neighboring Pakistan.

But the military metaphysic prevalent in Washington over the past 65 years will allow for nothing other than what is seen as victory, with a “Who lost Afghanistan?” legacy tarnishing the president who fails to secure it and the party to which he belongs being branded half-hearted and defeatist.

As for NATO, the Strategic Concept to be adopted in November is predicated upon the bloc’s expansion into a 21st century global expeditionary force for which Afghanistan is the test case. A NATO that loses Afghanistan, that loses in Afghanistan, will be viewed more critically by the populations of its European member states that have sacrificed their sons and daughters at the altar of NATO’s international ambitions. In the words of then-Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer six years ago: “What is NATO doing in Afghanistan? Defending values at the Hindu Kush in the present day international climate. We have to fight terrorism wherever it emerges. If we don’t do it at the Hindu Kush, it will end up at our doorstep. In other words, this perception gap [of the North Atlantic military alliance operating in South Asia] in the long run must be closed and must be healed – that is, for NATO’s future, of the utmost importance.” [1]

Not satisfied with the Vietnam that Afghanistan has become, NATO has now launched its Cambodian incursion. One with implications several orders of magnitude greater than with the prototype, though, into a nation of almost 170 million people, a nation wielding nuclear weapons. Pakistan.

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.” [2]

The amount, like the identify, of the dead will never be definitively known.

Press reports stated the targets were members of the Haqqani network, founded by veteran Afghan Mujahedin leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who when he led attacks from Pakistani soil against Afghan targets slightly over a generation ago was an American hero, one of Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.” Two years ago the New York Times wrote: “In the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani was cultivated as a ‘unilateral’ asset of the CIA and received tens of thousands of dollars in cash for his work in fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, according to an account in ‘The Bin Ladens,’ a recent book by Steve Coll. At that time, Haqqani helped and protected Osama bin Laden, who was building his own militia to fight the Soviet forces, Coll wrote.” [3]

As to the regret that the otherwise praiseworthy Haqqani has of late allied himself with the Taliban, one voiced by among other people the late Charlie Wilson who once celebrated Haqqani as “goodness personified,” in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press last year Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told his American audience that the Taliban “was part of your past and our past, and the ISI and the CIA created them together. And I can find you 10 books and 10 philosophers and 10 write-ups on that….” [4]

On September 27 two NATO helicopters attacked the Kurram agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, killing six people and wounding eight. A local Pakistani government official described all the victims as civilians. According to Dawn News, “Nato has also shelled the area before.” [5] Three attacks in three days and as many as 100 deaths.

On the same day a U.S. drone-launched missile strike killed four people in the North Waziristan agency. “The identities of the four people killed in the attack were not known….” [6]

The above events occurred against the backdrop of the revelation in Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars that “a 3,000-strong secret army of Afghan paramilitary forces run by the Central Intelligence Agency had conducted cross-border raids into Pakistan.” [7]

After mounting in intensity for two years and consisting in part – helicopter gunship attacks and special forces assassination team raids – of covert operations, the U.S. and NATO war in Northwest Pakistan is now fully underway and can no longer be denied.

The Pentagon – the helicopters used in the attacks on September 25 and 26 were American Apaches and Kiowas – defended the strikes over the weekend as falling within its rules of engagement and Defense Department spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the U.S. had adhered to “appropriate protocol” and “Our forces have the right of self-defense.” [8]

A spokesmen for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force initially denied that Alliance forces had launched any attacks inside Pakistani territory, although Afghan police officials had confirmed that they did. On September 27, however, the International Security Assistance Force verified that NATO forces had conducted the deadly strikes. As the third attack by NATO helicopters occurred on the same day, “Coalition officials said the cross-border attacks fell within its rules of engagement because the insurgents had attacked them from across the border.” [9]

A NATO official informed the press that “ISAF forces must and will retain the authority, within their mandate, to defend themselves in carrying out their mission.” [10]

Mehmood Shah, former top security official of the Pakistani government in the region where the helicopter gunship and drone strikes have killed over 200 people so far this month, said of the recent NATO attacks: “This should be considered a watershed event. They [Nato] must be warned: the next time you do this, it can lead to war. Our units should be deployed to fire upon them. This border has sanctity. Nato must realise they have a mandate to operate in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan.” [11]

On September 27 Interior Minister Rehman Malik denounced the NATO raids as a violation of Pakistani territorial integrity and national sovereignty and told the nation’s Senate that the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad would be summoned to explain the attacks. Malik and the Pakistani government as a whole know that the Hamid Karzai administration in Kabul has no control over what the U.S. and NATO do in its own country, much less in Pakistan. The interior minister’s comment were solely for internal consumption, for placating Pakistani popular outrage, but as Pakistan itself has become a NATO partner and U.S. surrogate [12] its officials, like those of Afghanistan, will not be notified of any future attacks.

Nevertheless domestic exigencies compelled Malik to denounce the strikes inside his country and assert “I take the drone attacks in Pakistani territory as an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan.” A senator from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz “asked the government to inform the parliament about any accord it had reached with the US under which drone attacks were being carried out.” [13]

At the same time Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit went further and lodged what was described as a strong protest to NATO Headquarters in Brussels over the weekend’s air strikes, issuing a statement that said in part: “These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which ISAF operates,” as its mandate “terminates/finishes” at the Afghan border.

“There are no agreed ‘hot pursuit’ rules. Any impression to the contrary is not factually correct. Such violations are unacceptable.” [14]

By the evening of September 27, after the Pakistani complaints were registered, NATO’s ISAF attempted to conduct damage control and reverted to the military bloc’s original position: That it has not launched attacks inside Pakistan at all. On that very day it had dispatched two more helicopter gunships for the third raid in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

NATO will continue to launch lethal attacks inside Pakistan against whichever targets it sees fit and will proffer neither warnings nor apologies. The U.S. will continue to escalate attacks with Hellfire missiles against whomever it chooses, however inaccurate, anecdotal and self-interested the reports upon which they are based prove to be.

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.

Forty years ago Obama’s predecessor Richard Nixon began his speech announcing the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia with these words: “Good evening, my fellow Americans. Ten days ago, in my report to the nation on Vietnam, I announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam. And at that time I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.” [15]

He claimed that “enemy sanctuaries” in Cambodia “endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam,” and “if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South Vietnam along 600 miles of frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without fear of retaliation.”

The course he ordered was to “go to the heart of the trouble. And that means cleaning out major North Vietnamese and Vietcong occupied territories, these sanctuaries which serve as bases for attacks on both Cambodia and American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.”

The practical application of the policy was that “attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border.”

In language that has been heard again lately in Washington and Brussels – with nothing but the place names changed – Nixon claimed: “We take this action not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam….”

Washington indeed expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia, with what disastrous effects the world is fully aware, and soon thereafter departed Southeast Asia in defeat, leaving vast stretches of Vietnam and Cambodia in ruins.

Afghanistan and Pakistan will not fare any better.

Kashmiri intifada

August 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A Kashmiri youth strikes a government vehicle which had been set on fire by a mob during a demonstration in Srinagar on August 4, 2010, who were protesting over the recent deaths in The Kashmir Valley. Five more demonstrators died in Indian Kashmir as new protests erupted in defiance of pleas for calm from the region’s chief minister, the deaths again brought huge crowds chanting anti-India slogans on to the streets of Srinagar as the bodies of two dead men were carried on stretchers to their funerals. The death in early June of a 17-year-old student – killed by a police tear-gas shell – set off the series of almost daily protests during which scores of people have been killed, 27 of them since July 30. At least 44 people have died in the weeks of unrest – most of them killed by security forces trying to disperse angry protests against Indian rule. – AFP Photo

Has New Delhi learnt any lessons from all that has been going on in Indian-held Kashmir — especially since June 11, when the current intifada began? On Tuesday, India obliged Chief Minister Omar Abdullah by rushing more troops to the valley. Does the Indian government really think that 1,500 more troops will succeed where an army of over half a million men has failed? If the Indian troops’ job is to crush the Kashmiri yearnings for freedom, then history says brute force has never succeeded in denying freedom to a people for long.

Five more Kashmiris were shot dead on Tuesday as fresh protests broke out in Srinagar, with a crowd of urban youths shouting anti-India slogans. The extent of Kashmiri anger is obvious, for the demonstrators defied curfew despite police warnings on loudspeakers that violators would be shot dead. Some officials deny that any ‘shoot on sight’ order had been given. But the way the troops have been behaving and given the rising number of Kashmiri deaths make it clear the order exists for all practical purposes.

The second Kashmiri intifada is home-grown. There are no two opinions about it. Even India’s rights bodies and sections of the media acknowledge this truth, and barring those toeing the government line, no responsible Indian sees a foreign hand in what undeniably is a spontaneous reaction — mostly from urban youths — to India’s repressive policies that aim at keeping the Kashmiris in bondage by force. One wishes India realised that the stifling atmosphere in the valley and the violations of human rights by its troops cause more violence and deaths, inviting censure from the world and putting strains on the already tense relations with Islamabad.

The only choice New Delhi has is to talk — both to Kashmiris of all shades of opinion and to Islamabad, for only that solution will be long-lasting and acceptable to the people of Kashmir. Let us hope India doesn’t consider it a provocation when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expresses Pakistan’s concern over the “escalation of violence against the Kashmiri people” and asks New Delhi to “exercise restraint”.

DAWN